'Free' Walmart gift card scam hits local mailboxes

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BERRYVILLE -- A new scam has reached the mailboxes of Carroll Countians this week. The ploy, masked as a rewards postcard, offers a "$100 in gift rebates good at Walmart, Target and more."

Louise Rusterholz of Berryville brought it to the attention of Carroll County News on Monday in hopes of alerting people in the community.

On one side the card is addressed specifically to the resident, and says: "You are eligible to claim a reward valued at $100. Call toll-free now for complete details." It then lists a phone number beginning with 855 area code -- which some providers do not recognize yet as a toll-free number -- and also lists a claim number and their hours of operation.

The back side is pictured at right.

Using the phone number provided, CCN made contact with a man that said he works for "Savings To Go." He stated that CCN would receive a card "redeemable at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Walgreens, as well as many other stores" after we paid a processing/activation fee of $6.95. CCN disconnected the call at that point.

Rusterholz told CCN she had previously called the number on the card and soon realized that it is a scam.

"I thought this might have been a real gift card for Walmart," she said. "I have heard of these types of scams; it looked real. I am just afraid that other people in the area may fall for this."

Walmart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie said, "We are aware that there are scams that are offering Walmart gift cards for a fee. We want our customers to know that these people are in no way affiliated or sponsored by Walmart and that we are working with a third-party service to detect unauthorized use of our brand and take them down."

CCN discovered a barrage of consumer complaints about Savings To Go posted online, and about its apparent parent company, Stonebridge. There were several pages of complaints against the company for its billing practices; several of the complainants stated that their credit cards or bank accounts had been charged, without their permission, $15 per month over several months and, in some cases, years with no resolution or end in sight.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Sarah Tacker says this type of scam is something her office has seen before.

"This looks like a negative option," Tacker explained. "A negative option is a free trial or prize promotion that unknowingly signs you up for a monthly, ongoing service. The words negative option mean that if a customer fails to act, the business counts that as the consumer's agreement to a contract."

A negative option means that you are unknowingly agreeing to enter into a contract by providing the business with your credit card information, and at the same time by signing up for its promotion -- or in this case, a gift card giveaway.

"The problem is that the consumer never agreed to the (monthly) charge and the business didn't disclose the (monthly) charge," Tacker said.

The best way to avoid these types of "agreements" is to not give out any personal information to anyone over the phone unless you have done business with them before, Tacker advised.

The Federal Trade Commission has a negative option rule that essentially says that businesses have to disclose the "material terms,' which means a consumer should know, up front, how much they are being charged (price) and how often (frequency). The disclosure should also be clear and conspicuous.

The Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act allows the Attorney General to pursue civil law enforcement against companies that illegally engage in negative options or material terms.

The Arkansas Attorney General's office has a Consumer Hotline with a live phone counselor for questions regarding legal and illegal business practices. They can be reached during business hours at 1-800-482-8982.

If you feel you are a victim of a scam, report it to the Arkansas Attorney General's office online at www.gotyourbackarkansas.org or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP or online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/.

"There is a good catch phrase to save people from scams," Tacker said. "You shouldn't have to pay money to get money."

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  • Another scam everyone should be aware of is the Amway Tool Scam. Google StopTheAmwayToolScam for more information, and forward this to every non-IBO you know, so they don't get scammed.

    -- Posted by Textex on Tue, Dec 18, 2012, at 11:34 AM
  • The scam is no longer restricted to Carroll County. I live in the middle Tennessee area and received an almost identical postcard in the mail today (January 28th). The phone number had changed a few numbers and the so-called unclaimed reward was for Walmart or Target.

    I called the number thinking that maybe one of the times I had filled out my shopping experience survey from the bottom of a Walmart receipt had paid off. Their number was 1-855-299-2581. The man on the other end of the line spoke with an Indian accent and called himself "Jimmy." He was persistent, saying that his company was not a scam or "bologna." I inquired more information about the company he worked for and he gave me some cock and bull story saying that he worked for the government and that's why his area code was 855. (If you'll notice the picture of this article, there is no return address or other indications of the source.) "Jimmy" already had my first and last name, the Phone number I had used to contact the company, and my address. He said all he needed was my credit card information so he could charge a $6.95 fee. That's when I started to get suspicious! So I inquired what the fee was for: shipping and handling or perhaps activation? He claimed it was for the activation fee. Again, he was very persistent that the company wasn't trying to scam me. He even went so far as to say that Dr. Oz sponsored this gift card give-away but then contradicted himself later saying that Walmart had kept a record of my purchases and wanted to reward a faithful consumer. That's when "Jimmy" became unrelenting in trying to get my credit card number.

    While still on the phone, I googled the free gift card and came across this article. Boy, am I glad I did!

    So beware, readers, this scam is spreading across the country.

    -- Posted by af2013 on Mon, Jan 28, 2013, at 2:55 PM
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