James warns about scams targeting employees during pandemic

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference in New York
New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference in New York, U.S., June 11, 2019.
REUTERS / Mike Segar/ File

New York Attorney General, Letitia James on Friday issued an alert to New Yorkers, warning them about the “Boss Scam,” a common text and email scam in which fraudsters pose as a consumer’s employer and request gift cards due to a purported work emergency.

James said this scam may be on the rise during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic since many employees are working remotely.

“Due to COVID-19 safety measures, many employees are still working remotely which makes it easier to fall for this common scam,” she said. “A legitimate employer will never ask you to purchase gift cards in order to pay clients or for other business purchases.

“I urge all New Yorkers to be on the alert for this type of fraud, and to protect themselves and their wallets by following our simple tips,” she added.

The attorney general said the scam typically works as follows: An employee receives a text or an email from someone pretending to be their employer who claims there is an urgent matter.

She said the text or email may “spoof” an employer’s actual name, phone number or email address, making it seem legitimate. T

James said the “employer” then requests that the employee buy a certain number of Target or other store gift cards in specific denominations and promises to reimburse the employee quickly.

She said the “employer” may ask the employee to scratch off the back of the card to reveal the PIN or claim code — thus making the gift card the equivalent of cash — and send photos of the card to the scammer.

James said gift card scams of all types are very prevalent, with most involving some form of imposter scam, such as scammers pretending to be employers, the government, family or tech support companies.

A December 2020 data analysis by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows that “about one in four [consumers] who lost money to a fraud say they paid with a gift card.

In fact, James said gift cards have topped the list of reported fraud payment methods every year since 2018.

During that time, she said people reported losing a total of nearly $245 million, with a median individual loss of $840.

According to the FTC, some of the most reported gift and reload card brands consumers mentioned in fraud reports included eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes and Amazon.

Attorney General James offers tips to protect against the “Boss” gift card scam: “Take a pause. Scammers create a sense of urgency to prey on victims’ emotions. Take a second pause. A legitimate employer will not ask you to handle company business through gift card purchases.

“Verify any supposed emergency by reaching out directly to an employer at the number you know,” she said. “Do not reply to the text or email sent, even if it appears to come from a known email or phone number.”

Tips to avoid gift card scams generally: “Be suspicious of anyone who contacts you unexpectedly asking to be sent gift cards,” James said. “Never purchase gift cards for the purpose of transferring money. Gift cards are solely for gifts.

“Scammers often train their victims to give false information to retail clerks when clerks ask questions about large gift card purchases,” James said. “If a retail clerk warns you that you may be the victim of a gift card scam, heed their advice and contact law enforcement officials.”

The attorney general said New Yorkers who have been targeted by this scam are urged to file a complaint by completing and submitting a Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau online complaint form or by calling (800) 771-7755.

She also issued an alert to protect New Yorkers from the dangers of fake coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination cards.

“The sale or distribution of blank or fraudulently-completed vaccination cards to individuals who have not actually received a vaccine poses a serious threat to the health of New York communities, and will impede the progress that has been made in combatting COVID-19,” James said.

“Falsifying vaccine cards and records, as well as the unauthorized use of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) seals, also violate various federal and New York state laws, and is subject to civil and criminal enforcement,” she added.

As the Delta variant becomes more prominent, James said it is more important than ever for New Yorkers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

She said not only do fake and fraudulently-completed vaccination cards violate federal and state laws, and the public trust, but they also put the health of communities at risk and potentially prolong this public health crisis.

“I strongly urge New Yorkers to reject these fake vaccination cards and get the COVID-19 vaccine, so that we can move forward from this pandemic and return to normalcy as soon as possible,” James urged.

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