How a Neils Harbour business helped stop a gift card scam

·2 min read
Alert staff at the Neils Harbour Co-op warned two customers that the large gift card purchases they were making were likely a scam. (Google Maps - image credit)
Alert staff at the Neils Harbour Co-op warned two customers that the large gift card purchases they were making were likely a scam. (Google Maps - image credit)

Nova Scotia Mounties say employees of a small Cape Breton grocery store are to be thanked for spotting a gift card scam and notifying two victims about it.

In mid-June, a customer at the Neils Harbour Co-op purchased about 20 gift cards totalling $7,000.

"Basically, the spidey senses kicked in," said acting grocery manager Susan Dowling. "I went and asked him, 'Sir, why are you buying all these gift cards?' And I tried to explain to him that there's a lot of scams going on."

RCMP say fraudsters commonly ask for payments or gifts that are not easily tracked, such as gift cards.

The man told Dowling the cards were being given to a family from another country.

Unable to convince the man he was being scammed, Dowling said she watched on the store's camera as he left the store. Among the purchases he made were five $500 gift cards to a beauty supply store.

Talking to a scammer

Fortunately, Dowling said the man returned about 10 minutes later to say the cards were not working.

"This scammer calls back and [the man] gives the phone to me," Dowling said. "And then he hung up on me."

The RCMP were called with the hope they could explain the scam to the man. With the help of the Mounties, Dowling eventually convinced the customer he was being conned.

"My understanding is that the victim was going to ... go buy more gift cards believing the scammers to be legitimate people," said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall.

Dowling said that most of the money the man lost to the scam was refunded by his credit card provider.

Another customer targeted

Dowling said another man came into the co-op a couple of weeks ago looking to buy gift cards.

Dowling's husband, who is the store's manager, asked his wife to go talk to him about it. Dowling said the customer told her a family friend had requested them through Facebook.

"In my heart, I was thinking, 'I don't have a good feeling about this,'" she said. "I mean, I feel so bad for them. I didn't think they [got] it."

Unable to convince the man it might be a scam, Dowling phoned the RCMP with her concerns. She then tracked down a family member and shared with them what was going on.

"We'd like to thank the employees for seeing the situation for what it was and for notifying us," said Marshall. "We were able to stop [the scam] from continuing and in the second case we were able to stop this before the second victim would have been defrauded."

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says more people may be falling victim to scams as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Nova Scotia, nearly 1,500 people lost a combined $2.3 million to fraud in the past four years.

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