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Too Good to Be True, Too Wrong to Go Unreported: Beware This Gift Card Scam

By Cynthia S. Artin October 29, 2018

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, topped off by Halloween, and this year some criminal individual or ring is masquerading as Warren Patterson, head of HR for a mystery shopper company trolling LinkedIn for innocents.


I know, because I was almost a victim until a friend of mine on LinkedIn, where I have over 2,500 contacts, let me (and others) know his account was hacked by this group, enabling them to send DMs to his contacts including me.

This friend is President and CEO of a global engineering and design company, and literally one of the smartest, friendliest and coolest people in my orbit. Before he even knew he was hacked, I responded right away (which is my trademark!) and filled out a rather harmless “formlet” as an offer to become a mystery shopper for iTunes gift cards through Warren Patterson’s “company.”

Within a few days, I got mail (the paper kind) including a “cashier’s check” from PNCBank, one of largest and most reputable banks operating globally, with instructions to deposit the check, then use most of the proceeds to purchase iTunes gift cards from different retailers, and report on the experience.

Given that I write about Customer Experience (CX), I was fascinated by the idea of becoming a “mystery shopper” and how the physical and digital experience was being measured; this, while I was still in the “magical thinking” fog.

I didn’t deposit the check, and like others, got a “follow up email” from Warren Patterson, so sent back an email asking a few questions about little things – tax treatment, W-9, 1099, and more.

Later that day, my friend published on LinkedIn that he was hacked, and that’s when things got even more interesting.

I “googled” Warren Patterson Scam and I got back a lot, including hundreds of posts to scam reporting sites and warnings by the Better Business Bureau (www.BBB.org/ScamTips).

I’m a reporter, so I contacted the BBB, who immediately responded and let me know a fellow almost-victim had the same experience, filed a complaint, and was willing to share her story.

Here’s what my fellow victim and new contact on LinkedIn submitted to the BBB Scam Tracker (www.BBB.org/ScamTracker):

“Scam Description: I was sent this offer on LinkedIn by a trusted source. I am old enough to know that something that seems too good to be true usually is. However, since I trusted who it came from I bit. I filled out the information ticket and submitted it. I was contacted via email the following day. Here is the message I received:

Attn:  MY NAME

We want to thank you once again for signing up for PRODUCTS & SERVICES PROGRAM.  This is to inform you that you will be undertaking your first task on our behalf this week .At this Point, you are expected to check your email every day and most especially TODAY (10/01/2018) because  the payment and the instruction you are to follow  in completing your assignment ,has been mailed and will be delivered TODAY via UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE and the tracking number is (9405503699xxxxxxxxxxxx) and you can look it up at their website.

Get back to us with a reply to show that you are in receipt of this message and ready to proceed.

Warren Patterson (HR)

I received the instructions for my first assignment on 10/2 and a cashiers check ($2950.00). And promised it would clear my bank within 24 hours of deposit. The instructions were to deposit the check (immediately) into my bank. $2550 of the monies were to purchase goods-in this case iTunes cards. They were to be in denominations of $100 or less and I would most likely have to visit more than one big store name (Walmart, Target, KMart, CVS etc.) because most stores limit purchase amounts of these types of gift cards. I was instructed to purchase $2500 worth of the cards. Further instructions were to follow these guidelines: 1. How long it took me to get services; 2. Name and Smartness of the staff that attended me. 3. Customer service professionalism. 4. My comments and impressions.

AFTER PURCHASE OF CARDS

-Make sure the iTunes are "ACTIVATED" before you step out of the stores

-Open the pack and peel the silver scratch-off area gently.

-After peeling the silver scratch on the card neatly, you are to take a clear picture of cards showing the PINS CODES and ensure that the face of the value of the card is visible alongside.

Take a picture of the iTunes card one after another and pictures of the receipts of all the cards.

-(Phone camera accepted)

Please do not discard the cards as they will be used for you subsequent assignments and make sure you get receipts for all the cards.

At any store chosen for your iTunes, under no circumstances should you acknowledge that you are evaluating their services as that will deter the purpose of the whole program, so if asked if you are a mystery shopper please answer NO. As soon as the evaluations are completed, kindly have all the details above emailed to (payoffice390@gmail.com) and (warrenpatterson@excutiveoffice.com)

(signed) WARREN PATTERSON (HEAD OF RECRUITMENT)

This morning I received this email from Warren Patterson:

Good day to you. I informed you yesterday that the Check you received for your assignment should be deposited and I never received a confirmation if it was done or not.

Note that if you deposited the check yesterday, Funds Are Available and you should be able complete your assignment today. If you have not done that yet, Kindly deposit the payment today.

We need a confirmation message if you deposited the check or if you intend to do that today.

Your prompt response is needed.

Thanks,

Warren

I was already very suspicious and responded with this email:

Hi Warren-

I received the check and assignment late yesterday when I got home from work. Before I proceed I have a few questions that would help ease my comfort level.

-What is the name of your company?

-What do you do with the information I provide?

-Is your company bonded and insured?

-Are the monies paid to me reported to the IRS?

-How many assignments are included in the $400 payment?

If you could answer these questions as well as provide any other information about your company I would really appreciate it.”

She never heard back from Warren Patterson, but I did.

I even wrote to him “are you aware there are hundreds of complaints about your scam” online, and still he asked me to deposit the check!

I wrote back: “Google Warren Patterson Scam” – and his email server sent back an error message.

My fellow victim also wrote in her complaint:

“I got on the BBB website and started searching for similar scams. I found several that were basically the same. The only difference was the products being purchased and the scammer.

I am so thankful that I listened to my good sense and checked before I acted.

I feel very strongly that the time I took to inform other potential victims was well worth it.

PLEASE BE CAREFUL AND DON'T BE A VICTIM.”

I am writing and sharing this story, inspired by the woman who came forward, and by the companies I contacted along the way.

The Better Business Bureau immediately offered to help and put me in touch with her.

PNCBank also responded to my request for comment within an hour, and provided this advice for this article:

Trevor Buxton, a PNC fraud awareness and communications manager and a Certified Fraud Examiner with PNC Bank, said:

“Although fraudsters are constantly revising their scams to collect more from consumers, some things remain consistent. Fraudsters almost always seek money – either directly or indirectly. Anyone can be vulnerable to a scam if the scammer catches him or her at the right moment.  To protect yourself, the best defense is a good offense.”

When solicited for one of these work-from-home opportunities to earn some extra cash, Buxton suggests you stop and assess for a potential scam with the following questions:

Were you solicited online from an unknown source?

Scammers pretend to be working for companies that have big, recognizable names to try to fool you into not researching them. If your “recruiter” won’t give you their name or contact information, just an email address, he or she is probably a scammer.

Are you being asked to accept, spend or send money right away?

Real work-from-home employers will pay you. Do not fund the operation with your own funds “to get started” with a promise of reimbursement. If funds sent to you to get started in the form of a check or wire transfer, confirm with your bank that the check is funded before spending anything.

Are gift cards something you are being asked to purchase and share the numbers (verbally or physically) with the person soliciting you? 

Scammers are big fans of gift cards. You are asked to provide the gift card information to the fraudsters. It will be spent on fraudulent purchases online (card not present purchases) before you realize you’ve been scammed. And they may not be traced back to the fraudster.

Is the job too good to be true?

A good rule of thumb is that if an offer sounds too good to be true, then it could be a scam.”

A LinkedIn media representative also responded, within minutes, offering their help as they continue to investigate the hacking of accounts and spreading of this unfortunate hoax.

“Attempted fraud does exist and we recommend members take precautions, just as they would with banking or shopping online. Things to look out for include any requests to provide financial information or perform any type of monetary transaction. Our Help Center is a useful resource for members to educate and protect themselves from online fraud and other scams,” the LinkedIn spokesperson said. ”We utilize a number of technical measures to protect our members from fraudulent activity such as scams. We also encourage our members to report any messages or postings they believe are scams to us so we can investigate. When this type of activity is detected, we work to quickly remove it and prevent future reoccurrences."

What strikes me in hindsight is that Warren Patterson, whomever he or she or they are, are not very smart. In fact, using a social networking platform for professionals to try and defraud them is just plain stupid.

The more I researched this on LinkedIn, the more instances I found, and people wishing to share their own experience. Now it is my turn, and as embarrassing as it may be to have to admit I was hooked there for a moment (“The Day of Magical Thinking”), I am hoping those of you who read this will remember it and actively join busy people in calling out bad actors publicly.

BBB also reminded me that scam tactics generally stay the same, even when scammers change their names and key information. While “Warren Patterson” will likely “retire” at some point, the scammer behind this will use other names and follow similar tactics, especially if we don’t report incidents and coordinate responses.  

I also invite you to appreciate the very professional, immediate and helpful responses of the organizations contacted, and the support of TMC’s media platform and the professional journalists there who have been covering cybercrime on many dimensions this month.

Activism, community organizing, and the positive use of the Internet and social media combined with traditional media really can make a difference.




Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing Writer

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