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Wal-Mart Spree-For-All

Scam:   Con artists gather marks' banking information by promising $200 Wal-Mart shopping sprees in return for $3.49 processing charges.

REAL FRAUD WHICH COSTS ITS VICTIMS BETWEEN $200 AND $500

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]

I just received a call from a man with a foreign accent (sounded Indian) saying that he was calling on behalf of WalMart, telling me that Wall Mart is having a 50th year celebration and are selecting 40 families in California to honor with a $200 shopping spree. I was one of those lucky families. That sounded good. They would be sending me a package of vouchers in the mail that I could then take to WalMart and redeem for $200. That sounded good also. Then came the catch!

All I would need to do is pay for the packet of vouchers - $3.49. But, I couldn't do it by a check when they come, nor could I do it by credit card. They wanted me to pay by giving them my checking account number over the phone and they would take it out of my account. That is when the red flag went up and I said, "I am sorry, but I don't give out my checking account number to anyone. And I am now going to call Wall Mart and find out if this is really true."

I hung up and did call WalMart. The store manager had never heard of this. He called the corporate headquarters who told him that this is a hoax. They have no such program going on.

So please pass this on to others. There may be some sweet, gullible, innocent people who might fall for this and give out their bank numbers and later find their account cleaned out.
 

Origins:   In the spring of 2005 we began hearing a new version of the "voucher" or "coupon" scam, one that held out the promise of $200 Wal-Mart shopping sprees to those willing to permit modest $3.95 handling fees to be processed through their bank accounts. As in an earlier version of this rip-off that used as bait vouchers said to be good for $200 worth of gasoline
redeemable at any of the major gas stations, the ballyhooed prize wasn't real — there were no $200 Wal-Mart gift vouchers being handed out.

Like so many other con games, "voucher" or "coupon" frauds work by mesmerizing intended pigeons with visions of the rich plums about to drop into their laps for next to nothing so that they don't pick up on the grab being made for their money. In this case, that "grab" is effected by conning victims into authorizing the withdrawal from their bank accounts of small (under $5) charges for shipping the vouchers to them. The so-called shipping charge isn't the fraud's objective (the thieves are after far bigger game than the $3.95 the dupes authorize); it's the patsy's banking information. Armed with that, the con artists put through one unauthorized charge after another until someone catches wise to their activities and moves to put a stop to them. By that point, the targets' bank accounts have been depleted by a series of what their banks regarded as legitimate charges authorized by them.

The crime is real, as is the warning about it. According to Marty Heires, a spokesperson at Wal-Mart's head office, this fraud has been reported from nearly every region of the country since May. "Some ask for a credit card, others ask for a check, including the person's account number and routing number," Heires said. "It's a scam and has nothing to do with Wal-Mart."

Heires said the company never uses phone solicitation of any kind and has posted warnings about the scams in its stores.

Do not expect the swindlers to stick strictly to one unvarying script. The value of the purported shopping spree fluctuates (both $200 and $500 are common), as does the supposed reason for the giveaway (25th or 50th anniversary promotions being run on behalf of Wal-Mart).

Consumer Rewards Network, a sales entity located in Canoga Park, CA, and its affiliates Mega Movie Club, Health Net, and Net Forever, have been implicated in this fraud. The experience of Brenda Nicholas of Oklahoma was typical. One day she received a phone call from someone claiming to be running a promotion for Wal-Mart in which those lucky enough to be called would receive $500 in that store's gift certificates. Nicholas gave the caller her banking information in the expectation that she would be charged a $4.95 fee for conveying her $500 worth of shopping certificates to her. Instead, she saw two charges for $4.95 go through her accounts plus a $119.80 charge from Net Forever, a movie club she had not joined. When she tried to get these charges reversed, she was given the runaround, including being told she would have to fill out certain forms to apply for the refund she sought.

In North Dakota, Consumer Rewards Network is under a Cease and Desist Order preventing it from conducting business in that state because it was deemed to be engaging in deceptive telephone solicitations.

If this story has a moral, it is that there is often a dark side to "something for nothing" schemes. Our need to believe in the freebie is deeply ingrained and devoutly cherished, yet it is our very faith in this fiction that can work to set us up as pigeons, in that con artists need only wriggle this appealing morsel just a little to snare us in their webs.

Barbara "people are like compliments: easily taken" Mikkelson

How To Avoid Falling Victim To Unauthorized Charges Scams:
  • Do not give out bank account or credit card numbers over the phone if you didn't initiate the call to a reputable, known company. Be very reluctant to do business with any outfit that calls you (e.g., a telemarketing firm) rather than the other way around.
  • When tempted by a great deal proffered out of the blue by a business entity you have no direct knowledge of, remind yourself that offers which sound too good to be true generally are. Keep in mind that what is presented as a fabulous value for an amazing low price (e.g. coupons for $200 worth of gasoline in return for $1.95 mailing fee) might be no more than a set-up for the real purpose of persuading you to give up your financial information.
  • Be wary of any "free trial offer" that requires bank account or credit card numbers to cover shipping and handling charges. If the business is so interested in having you as a customer that it is willing to provide its product or service at no charge, why would it not also be willing to cover the cost of shipping?
  • Examine your credit card and bank account statements every month, keeping an eye peeled for unauthorized charges. Immediately challenge items you did not okay.
  • Stop believing in the chimera of "something for nothing."
Last updated:   11 July 2011

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Sources:

    Hopkin, Mary.   "Wal-Mart Scam Targets Pasco Phones."
    Tri-City Herald.   7 June 2005.

    Piscia, Jason.   "Area Residents Report Wal-Mart Phone Scam."
    The [Springfield] State Journal-Register.   30 May 2005   (p. 9).

    Taylor, Erin.   "Phone Scam Hits."
    CNHI News Service.   16 June 2005.

    Associated Press.   "California Company Ordered to Stop Doing Business in North Dakota."
    3 June 2005.