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Fraudsters going after cash-card holders

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 15, 2011 - 10:02 PM

Law enforcement says a recent spike in fraud targeting people using Green Dot MoneyPak cards is cause for extra caution.

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Some Minnesota consumers who used prepaid cash cards called Green Dot MoneyPaks in recent weeks have discovered that they may have thrown their money down a black hole.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Better Business Bureau issued a joint warning Wednesday advising consumers to be wary of emerging fraud schemes by crooks who take advantage of people using the cards.

Retailers including Wal-Mart, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Kmart and Radio Shack sell the prepaid cards. Consumers "load" the cards with cash at retailers or through online PayPal accounts. The cards can be used like cash at participating merchants, often by people who don't have checking accounts or credit cards.

The DPS Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division says it recently received complaints from consumers who used MoneyPaks cards to pay "advance fees" to obtain loans; to make "up-front payments" in what turned out to be fictitious lottery prizes, or to order over the Internet heavily discounted exercise equipment that never arrived from Direct Home Fitness, supposedly based in Wabasso, Minn.

Bill White, a special agent investigating the cases, said crooks have persuaded consumers to buy the cards and turn over the card number. Then, the crooks drain the victims' card balances, he said.

Although White said he's at the early stages of the investigation and doesn't know how many consumers may have been victimized, he's convinced the fraud is widespread and growing.

"Some people have got to work with me to get this shut down, otherwise there are going to be a lot more [victims], I can tell you that," White said.

Green Dot urged cardholders to "protect their MoneyPak number the same as they would cash" and not give it to anyone. The card should only be used with approved partners and known, trustworthy companies, the company said.

"Never give the number to a private individual or to pay for items purchased from classified ads, or for a claim," the company said.

The Web page for Direct Home Fitness ( remained up and running Wednesday. White said he's trying to get it shut down. He said that local police believe it was registered under others' names without their knowledge.

Lorraine Lindeman, 81, of Cottage Grove, said she fell prey to a scam involving a MoneyPak card about a month ago when she took a call from Jamaica and was told she'd won $2.2 million.

"I didn't play any lotteries, but I'm always sending in [for sweepstakes]," Lindeman said. The caller, whose name was James, said he'd need $150 to verify her identity and ensure that the payment went through, she said.

Lindeman said she wouldn't give him a credit card number, so he suggested that she buy a MoneyPak card to make the payment, which she did. He later called back and asked her to put $350 more on the card to complete the transaction, she said.

"I said, 'I think this is a scam!' Well, he was so convincing," Lindeman said.

This time, though, the manager at the Walgreens where she bought the MoneyPak card convinced her that she shouldn't send any more money.

James tried again, saying he'd need $6,000 to deliver the prize, Lindeman said. "He asked me if I had a Discover card, and I said yes. He asked me how much I owed on it. I says I owe $1,500 on it cause I had just bought a refrigerator. And he said they would pay that off for me," she said. He later told her the balance had been paid and gave her a number to call to verify it.

Lindeman said she called the credit card company, which advised her that she probably had been the victim of a scam, and that they were going to investigate the matter themselves. She closed the account.

"Then the police and detectives got involved, and that's where it ended," Lindeman said

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