Q: You may already be aware of this, but there is a new (to me) scam going around. Someone had sufficient information to buy a laptop online from Best Buy with my wife’s credit card number two weeks ago. Fortunately, we saw the transaction right away via an email alert, called our bank and reported it as fraudulent. Our bank, PNC, immediately canceled the card. Despite that, a few days later, a laptop arrived at our house via UPS. It was a Lenovo Ideapad for $572.39.
I called Best Buy and had a very difficult time convincing them that this was a fraudulent transaction since the credit card, billing address and shipping address all matched up to us. Best Buy thought we had ordered the laptop and they wanted to treat it as a simple return and have me send it back for a credit. But after I insisted on a case number and that it be logged as a fraud, I took the laptop back to the nearest store and got a receipt for the return.
The next day, after I’d returned the laptop, the mystery was solved. A FedEx guy turned up at the house and said he was there to pick up a return to Best Buy. Of course, I had already returned the computer. I googled the address on his shipping label and found the return address was not a Best Buy facility, but rather a small house on a Philadelphia street.
It seems that the scam is to get hold of a credit card number, ship goods to the card holder and then try and get them “returned” via FedEx before the card holder realizes what is going on. My bank says they have seen a rash of fraudulent charges at Best Buy being delivered to the cardholder’s billing address. The FedEx guy said this is driving them crazy and the drivers are being asked to watch out for and report this. Best Buy people are acting clueless.
If someone received a shipment of merchandise without realizing it had hit their credit card, I could see where the person might allow it to be picked up by FedEx and shipped to someone participating in a scam.
You may want to let your readers know that if someone falls for this and allows the computer to be shipped to this third-party address — not Best Buy — they will find it extremely difficult to convince Best Buy that they are not the purchaser.
D.H., Pepper Pike
A: Well, I had not heard of this one. It’s a wild tale and it seems like someone, or a ring of someones, is going to a lot of trouble to get laptops or other expensive items at no charge. But in some percentage of cases, it must be working. PNC validated your story.
First, your encounter again emphasizes how important it is for people to sign up for email or text alerts for unusual activity on their credit card and bank accounts. Email and text alerts are free! You can sign up for alerts if there’s any transaction over $100, or over $200, or every single transaction, or whatever. You can request text or email alerts if your credit card balance reaches a certain level, or your bank account balance drops below a certain level, or whatever.
These are free services that are aimed at protecting us. Everyone should be taking advantage of them, wherever you bank.
This, of course, is how you learned the same day that something weird was going on.
So this is an elaborate scheme that is a real thing. What’s scary is that no one along the way — PNC, Best Buy, FedEx — did anything wrong.
This transaction was not flagged as suspicious by PNC. That’s not a slap against PNC. It was a $600 computer being shipped to the card holder’s home. People buy computers. If you hadn’t opted in for alerts on your account, you wouldn’t have known about this fraudulent transaction. Best Buy confirmed the shipping address matched the billing address. FedEx is simply picking up returns that someone has requested.
PNC spokeswoman Shannon Mortland confirmed that the bank’s fraud investigators “are familiar with this scheme.”
“The scammers have the merchandise shipped to the cardholder so as not to raise any red flags with the merchant,” she said.
“The scammers count on the cardholder not paying attention to the return shipping address,” Mortland said. “Often the cardholder is so preoccupied with reversing the transaction that they fail to realize that they are, in fact, not returning the merchandise directly to the merchant.”
If you’re wondering why a thief would be willing to expose their home address (like the Philadelphia address), there’s a good chance they’re not. “Scammers recruit ‘reshipping mules’ whose sole function is to receive packages and reship them to another destination,” Mortland said. “They are often recruited under the guise of ‘work-from-home’ opportunities (another realm of fraud scams).”
PNC noted that if the scammer doesn’t receive the merchandise, they’re not hurt because it wasn’t their money being used to buy it anyway.
Mortland reiterated the importance of signing up for alerts with your bank or card issuer. Make sure the issuer can text you or email you or call you. (But don’t click on links or call any number in the message; always, always, always call the phone number on the back of your card.)
She added these tips for consumers:
- Immediately report any fraudulent or suspicious transactions to your bank or card issuer.
- Make photocopies or take photos of return shipping information as proof of any possible scam when dealing with the merchant.
- Report scams to local law enforcement.
You mentioned that PNC was very helpful to you. And it’s interesting that not only did they tell you they’d seen this scam before, but also said some customers who had disputed the charge after inadvertently returning the merchandise to someone besides the store were in Best Buy’s cross hairs. When banks reverse the charges, Best Buy may be coming after consumers directly to pay the tab.
Overall, this is another example of how important it is for you to take care of you. Everyone has to take the initiative to protect themselves: be suspicious, make that phone call, don’t go along with what someone urges you to do, assume that anything that smells weird is an attempt to steal your information or money.