Victims lose money to reloadable debit card scam


by Diane Moca

MILWAUKEE -- The Better Business Bureau says scammers are getting more creative and using technology to take advantage of victims.

Susan Bach, Director of Communications at Wisconsin’s Better Business Bureau, says the latest scam seems to be targeting Hispanics in Milwaukee by offering reduced prices on satellite or cable TV services.

“I feel bad because they stole my money,” exclaimed Ezequiel Munoz, who says his cash was taken by someone he trusted, a voice on the other end of the phone line speaking Spanish and telling him about a special offer to get more channels for less money.

"I accept it because it was a great deal,” he noted.

Ezequiel says he was really convinced when the telemarketer told him he could see the additional channels instantly.

So he gave the caller his Dish Network receiver ID number, and a few moments later he says he suddenly saw previously-blocked shows on HBO, Starz, pay-per-view and other channels -- all visible on his TV.

"I believe it 'cause I was seeing it on the TV,” he explained.

This Milwaukee man says the caller told him he had to get a reloadable debit card to pay the $430 to keep the entire package of premium and original channels for a full year.

Since that was far less than paying $87 per month as he had been doing, Ezequiel jumped on the deal and followed the instructions to prepay the annual fee using a MoneyPak card with a Dish Network logo right on it.

"Once you give a scammer the account number, it's as good as gone. It can't be recovered,” said BBB’s Susan Bach.

She said the caller was simply pretending to work for Dish Network.

"We’ve heard many instances when the names of real companies are used to defraud people. So I think the company is also a victim here too. Their name and reputation is being misused. It’s the consumers who are losing some real money,” she added.

Ezequiel says he called his satellite TV company a couple days later to ask which channel would be broadcasting a big pay-per-view fight, but Dish Network told him his package didn't include such events and they hadn't offered him any deal.

He says Dish Network then turned off the premium channels, and he learned his $430 had gone to a scammer.

"We need to alert our community,” the victim insisted.

Martha Bello was lucky her daughter alerted her to concerns about an amazing price for bundled cable, including TV, Internet and phone.

"They were telling us, You're going to have HD system. You're going to have calls to Mexico for free... It sounds so good, 50% off,” explained Martha’s daughter Kenya Martinez.

Martha and her daughter Kenya spent 24 minutes talking to someone who promised to eliminate their $185-a-month bill for AT&T U-verse if they prepaid $1500 for the entire year.

Before Martha had a chance to follow the caller's instructions and buy a Green Dot reloadable debit card to make her first $500 payment, her daughter stopped her.

“That’s when I called AT&T the next day, and I explained the whole situation. And they couldn't believe what I was saying. It was like, No, we don't do that,” recalled Kenya. She said she realized the caller was not from AT&T when she was "calling the next day and noticing that everything was a lie, and they were trying to take money from us."

Victims believe criminals are using new technology to trick consumers.

Kenya demonstrated how the scammer’s caller ID actually showed up as AT&T’s phone number on her phone, and Ezequiel is convinced the thief hacked into the Dish Network satellite system.

The Better Business Bureau says reloadable debit cards are the thieves’ preferred form of payment because they have no fraud protection and many consumers are too savvy to wire money or send cash in the mail.

"It should be a red flag if anyone asks you to pay in advance for anything and to prepay with one of these reloadable debit cards is especially concerning to us,” noted Susan.

She said anyone receiving such calls should get the name and number of the caller and report it to the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB says a reloadable debit card was also used by a friend of Kenya’s to pay $580 dollars to a criminal. Kenya said her friend was supposed to receive three iPhones with a year of free service, but all she really got was a very expensive lesson.

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