“It’s been devastating,” Maggie Smith said after fake callers scammed her out of thousands of dollars.
Photo: Channel 2 Action News
Photo: Channel 2 Action News

Don’t fall victim to this gift card scam, Cherokee County warns

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office is distributing literal warning signs for businesses to post near gift card displays, hoping it will prevent people from falling victim to scams, officials announced Thursday.

That’s after numerous reports of scammers calling victims on the phone, convincing them to buy thousands of dollars in gift cards and making off with that money after the victims give them the numbers on the back of the cards, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Jay Baker.

“In most scenarios, the victim receives a phone call from someone saying they are in trouble, a loved one is in trouble or that the victim has a warrant out for his or her arrest,” he said. 

Then, the scammer asks the victim to buy gift cards and deliver them to a law enforcement agency, “making the request seem legitimate.”

“However,” Baker said, “between purchasing the gift cards and delivering them to the law enforcement agency, the suspect will ask for the numbers on the back of the cards.”

Once they have that, the money is gone, he said.

That’s what happened to 82-year-old Maggie Warren, according to Channel 2 Action News. She told the news station she got a call that scared her so much she thought it was best to follow the instructions of the people on the other line.

“I’ve heard of thieves taking — I’m a widow — taking advantage of old lady widows,” she told the news station.

She said the caller claimed to be from the Social Security Administration and told her that her identity had been stolen and used by a criminal. 

“She said that my social security number had come up in Texas that I was tagged as sex trafficking, drug trafficking,” Warren said. 

The caller told Warren that a warrant was out for her arrest. Then, the caller told her to go to two different Target stores to buy gift cards. 

“They said, ‘Keep your phone on,’” she told Channel 2. “They said, ‘Blow your horn to let me know you’re on the road.’”

The woman bought about $15,000 in gift cards and gave the scammers the numbers on the back. The scammers told her to wire even more money from the bank. In all, she gave the scammers more than $35,000, Channel 2 reported.  

“It’s been devastating,” she said. “I have just beat myself down feeling I was stupid.”

Baker said there have been about 30 gift card scams reported in Cherokee County so far this year. 

“What’s concerning is that many victims are likely very embarrassed and don’t report that it happened to them,” he said.

He urges anyone who gets a call from someone claiming to be a law enforcement agency to hang up.

“A legitimate government agency will never ask someone to purchase gift cards to avoid arrest,” Baker said. 

Businesses that want to request signs for display near their gift card displays should call 770-928-0239. 

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