Katie Etheridge’s husband received an email purportedly from their friend Patrick, asking for their help. But in reality scammers had hacked his account and were trying to dupe the couple into sending the criminals money.
The email asked them to purchase two £100 Amazon gift cards for a friend’s birthday, who had cancer and was in hospital.
The message asked for the gift cards to be sent to them rather than to the friend in hospital, in reality so the scammers could use them.
Katie, 70, from Wateringbury, near Maidstone, told Express.co.uk older people who have lifelong friends could be particularly susceptible to this type of scam – where fraudsters pretend to be an acquaintance asking for a favour.
She warned: “With older people, you have a lot of long-term friends, who you would do things for, or children contacting you.
“You don’t put your sensible cap on, it tugs at your heartstrings. You don’t realise that somebody’s got into their account.”
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Katie’s husband was keen to help, so Katie used her Amazon account to purchase the gift cards.
Amazon then notified Katie they had suspended her account as they thought she was being scammed.
She phoned the company and reassured them the gift cards were legitimate, and they agreed to reinstate her account.
The next day her account had been reactivated and she paid for the vouchers. Two hours later, their friend Patrick phoned up and told them his email had been hacked and the message was fake.
Katie contacted her bank as the £200 was still pending and had not left her account. They said she would have to contact Amazon about getting the payment cancelled.
Fortunately, Amazon were able to cancel the gift cards as they had not been downloaded, and they refunded all the money.
If the scammers had downloaded them, they would not have been able to recover the funds. Katie said she was upset she had been taken in by the scammers as she is usually careful with cold calls and is mindful of fraudsters’ tactics.
She commented: “I was angry that somebody had done that and angry that I had been taken in by it.”
The couple wrote to all their email contacts to warn them of the scam and Katie shared her experience on online forum, Mumsnet.
Katie said: “I want as many people to know about the scam as possible, because a couple of hundred pounds is a lot, especially if you’re retired and on a pension. It’s not to be sneezed at.
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“A lot of people lose a lot more money. It’s shocking really. I think the scammers don’t realise how awful they are.”
An Amazon spokesperson said: “Scammers that attempt to impersonate Amazon put our customers and our brand at risk.
“We will continue to invest in protecting customers and educating the public on scam avoidance.
“We encourage customers to report suspected scams to us so that we can protect their accounts and refer bad actors to law enforcement to help keep consumers safe.
“Please visit our help pages to find additional information on how to identify scams and report them, including those relating to gift cards.”
Katie is also backing UK Finance’s Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, which has found only one in five people aged 65 and over are aware of the five most common APP frauds.
APP (authorised push payment) scams are ploys where the fraudsters dupe a person into sending money over to an account under their control.
The five common types of APP scam to be aware of are:
- Purchase scam – Buying a product or service that does not exist
- Investment scam – Investing money in a fake or fictional investment opportunity.
- Romance scam – The scammer creates a fake identity to bond with someone romantically, to trick them into sending over money
- Advance Fee scam – Paying an upfront fee to receive a prize of service, which never materialises
- Impersonation scam – The fraudsters pretend to be an official or organisation, such as the police or a bank, to try and get someone to hand over money or personal information.
UK Finance encourages people to take three steps to avoid being scammed:
- Stop – Take a moment to think through the situation before handing over money
- Challenge – Question if this could be fraudulent. Legitimate organisations will not pressure a person into handing over money
- Protect – Get in touch with the bank immediately if it turns out it is a scam. Scams can also be reported to Action Fraud.
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