By Julie Watts

PINOLE (KPIX 5) – More people than ever are using prepaid cards to buy things and pay bills. And now more scammers are using them, too — as a payment method to steal money from unsuspecting victims.

Shirley Hill of Pinole found out firsthand. Last month, she got an email from the “American Pay Day Loan Company” saying she’d been approved for a loan. “I wanted to do something good for my mother-in-law because she was having a hard time,” Hill told ConsumerWatch. But when Hill called the phone number on the email she was told that first, she’d have to prove she’d be able to pay the loan back.

Hill said the person on the other end told her to buy three Green Dot MoneyPak cards and load them with $1,400 dollars. Something, Hill did, at a local Wal-Mart, “Then he says ‘scratch off the number on the back and give me the number,’” Hill recalled.

It was a move Hill now deeply regrets. Within moments, her money was gone, most likely forever. Prepaid cards are just like gift cards. Anyone who has the number on the back can get immediate access to the funds and the money becomes untraceable.

“If a con artist is looking to take advantage of somebody, this is one way for them to be successful at it,” said Lori Wilson of the Oakland Better Business Bureau. Wilson said prepaid cards have become the payment method of choice for scammers. “We’ve seen this situation with sweepstakes, lotteries, work at home, people purchasing something off a website,” Wilson said. It’s happening so often the BBB has issued a warning along with a wide variety of state law enforcement agencies.

The Green Dot package also comes with a warning saying the company is not responsible for paying you back if someone steals the funds.

A bitter disappointment for Shirley Hill, who’s now deeper in debt than before. “After I thought about it, I was so darn stupid. But we needed the money.”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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