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Police Warn of Debit Card Scam Targeting Seniors

Recipients of phone calls are told that they've won the lottery but owe back taxes and must purchase a Green Dot "Moneypak" reloadable debit card.

The Mill Valley Police Department issued a warning this week after several Mill Valley residents, primarily seniors, reported receiving phone calls related to a Green Dot "Moneypak" reloadable debit card.

The scam is closely related to common scams using untraceable Western Union and MoneyGram wire transfers, police said. The recipients of the calls are told that they have won several thousand dollars in a lottery or sweepstakes, owe the IRS back taxes or have a close friend or family member in need of emergency money (bail or car repair usually).

The victims are told by the scammers to purchase a Green Dot card and load it with a specified amount of money, ranging from $100 to $1,000. The debit cards are available at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy and thousands of other stores. Once the victims have done so, they are told by the scammers to call them back or email them. When the victim contacts the scammer, they are asked to give the card number, which allows the scammer to get the money from the card. The transaction is untraceable and the funds have no chance of being returned.

Avoid MoneyPak scams

The Better Business Bureau recommends the following to avoid MoneyPak scams:

  • Be wary of websites or Craigslist advertisements linking to websites where customers are asked to pay with a MoneyPak card.
  • Never give your MoneyPak numbers to someone you don't know.
  • Keep in mind advance fee loan offers are not legitimate and are targeted at customers and companies who are struggling with debt and poor credit, often making bad situations worse.
  • Remember that if you're told you have pay to a fee - via MoneyPak or wire transfer - to collect a cash prize or sweepstakes winnings, you haven't won anything.
  • Avoid offers that do not accept credit card payments and ask you to purchase a MoneyPak and then provide the MoneyPak number in an email or over the phone.
  • Beware of websites requesting MoneyPak as a form of payment, even if they display the MoneyPak or Green Dot logo. Consumers should checkwww.moneypak.com for a list of approved MoneyPak partners.
  • Treat your MoneyPak cards like cash -- remember that transactions cannot be reversed.
  • Protect yourself from being a victim -- everyone, regardless of age, sex, education level, financial situation or where they live, is a potential victim.
  • Don't be afraid to hang up - it's OK to be rude.
  • Seniors may be targeted more because they are perceived by scam artists to have more free time and tend to be alone more.
  • Educate yourself and talk to others. These are the most effective ways to prevent scams.
  • Don't be afraid to ask a neighbor, family member, friend, banker or trusted advisor if you have doubts about an offer or business.
  • Call law enforcement immediately if you think you have been victimized.
  • Never accept the help of someone who calls you and offers to help recover the losses in a scam "for a small fee." Odds are, it's the same scam artist coming back for more.


There will never be a way to eliminate scam artists completely. They are constantly changing their methods to keep from getting caught so arm yourself with knowledge.

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