Text message scammer poses as California man's friend, asks for gift cards

ByMichael Finney and Randall Yip via KGO logo
Thursday, April 7, 2022
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Text message scammer poses as Windsor, California man's friend, asks for $400 worth of Google Play gift cards to give to local group.

WINDSOR, Calif. -- Many consumers have seen a growing number of spam texts coming across their phones.

Over the past week, searches for the term "spam texts" have spiked significantly. Our sister station KGO-TV in San Francisco wanted to know what's behind the surge.

Like many, John Crooker has seen an increase in the number of spam texts he's been getting. He ignores most of them.

But this one supposedly came from a friend he knew who asked him to buy $400 worth of Google Play cards for a local civic group.

"It looks legitimate. Sounds legitimate. It was the kind of thing we would possibly do," Crooker said.

His wife was going to Safeway anyway and he asked her to purchase the gift cards.

VIDEO: Verizon customers report spam text messages coming from user's own cellphones

She did.

"Great," the spammer texted. "Gently peel or scratch the label at the back of the cards and send me clear pictures of each card and a picture of the receipt too."

"At that point in time, I said, 'This is a fake. I'm being scammed here,'" said Crooker.

Viewers should beware of anyone asking you to purchase gift cards, cryptocurrency, or to use a payment app. Such transactions are hard to trace and don't offer the legal protection of a credit card.

RELATED: Zelle scam: Wells Fargo customers lose thousands after scammers pose as bank employees

The texts Crooker received impersonated a friend, but many more pretend to be from a business.

The Federal Trade Commission reports that spam texts supposedly from a business have bilked taxpayers out of $5 million this year through March 21.

"We've done reports on the increase of Amazon impersonation scams coming in by text messages and other media," said Lois Gresiman, Associate Director, Division of Marketing Practices at the FTC.

The latest scam that began just more than a week ago pretends to be from Verizon offering customers a free gift for paying their bill.

VIDEO: How to stop spam texts: Expert tips to block, report unwanted messages

At the same time, Google searches for the term "spam texts" spiked.

"So just in the first day, I think last Monday, we saw about 5,000 complaints in the first hour of those text messages starting to get sent out," said Giulia Porter from the spam filtering app Robokiller.

She says scammers are now using caller ID spoofing to send you texts from your own number.

Here are tips both she and the FTC issued to avoid being scammed.

  • Be cautious about giving out your phone number.
  • Watch for strange looking URLS. Don't click on them.
  • Beware of misspellings.
  • Forward spam texts to the FTC to spam@uce.gov and to your phone company.
  • If a text is unexpected, ignore it.

These scams are nothing new.

"Yes, all given a new life through the internet and a rebirth through iPhone and Android devices," said Greisman.

RELATED: Zelle scam: Bank impostor taunts California woman after stealing $3,500 using her name

KGO-TV brought Crooker's case to Safeway and it gave him a refund for his Google Play purchases.

"So you guys got their attention and I got my money back. So I was smiling," he said.

With more people choosing to not answer their phones, spammers are turning to text messaging to get our attention. The FTC says young people are the most likely to get scammed, but seniors citizens are being scammed for greater dollar amounts. There is some good news. Verizon says it successfully blocked all text from the Verizon text scam from getting through.