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Beacon Senior News

A rather expensive “free” gift card

Jun 29, 2021 05:41AM ● By Arthur Vidro
free gift card scam

It seemed like a pleasant surprise. A shipment of supplies I had ordered also contained a certificate saying “Congratulations! Your order entitles you to a $50 Walmart Gift Card! Call Toll-Free NOW to get complete details.” This was followed by an 800 phone number.

Sounded good. Too bad that before dialing, I didn’t turn the certificate over. Its reverse side read: “$50 Walmart Gift Card! Call now to claim a $50 Walmart gift card. Limited quantity available. Plus, you are entitled to receive up to three issues of your favorite magazines, absolutely Risk-FREE. Call today while supplies last!”

The phrase “limited quantity available” and the mention of magazines should trigger warning bells screaming “scam.” Also, the certificate was from an unidentified company. However, I dialed the number and began the odyssey. 

I got through quickly to a woman who congratulated me on this “free” $50 gift card and recited a scripted spiel so rapidly I had trouble understanding half her words, including the name of her firm.

Upon prompting, I provided my name and address. She then asked which magazines I wanted.

“Magazines?” I replied dimly. “I just want this free gift card.” 

Turns out to get this “free” gift card, one must order three magazine subscriptions. But don’t worry, one can cancel the subscriptions at any time for a full refund. 

“But if there’s a refund,” I murmured, “that means I’ll be paying for it first.” 

“Yes, so which magazines do you want?” She ran through a list of some of the nation’s most popular magazines.

“There’s no way I would read any of those magazines. Is that really a condition for getting this free gift card?”

“We have some others to choose from.” She recited a second list of publications. “Do you like any of those?”

“The magazines I’m truly interested in I already subscribe to, and they weren’t on your lists.”

She dismissed my concern by promoting the cancel-after-subscribing factor so that I could get this “free” card.

By now the situation was smelling pretty bad. She insisted I choose magazines, yet the cost of these subscriptions had never been mentioned. Chances were they would cost much more than $50.

So I parried. “Tell you what,” I offered. “How about we forget the magazines, and to compensate you can reduce the value of the gift card? Let it be for less than $50.”

“We can’t do that. We have only $50 gift cards available.” She artfully turned the conversation back to my selecting some magazines.

It was clear that subscribing to magazines I don’t read (and which I could probably get cheaper by ordering directly from the publisher) was a requirement for getting the gift card. I had no intention of subscribing, but I wanted to gauge the ethics of the unknown entity I had called. I was curious if they would give me their address. Scam operations tend not to do so.

“Gee,” I fibbed, “your offer sounds wonderful, but at the end of this call you’ll expect me to pay for magazines. So let me tell you that I don’t use credit cards. Would you allow me to write a check and mail it to you? If so, what’s your address?”

Though I do have a credit card, I seldom give it out to strangers over the telephone. The woman said with delight that, of course, they would accept a check. She’d be happy right then and there to have me read the bank account number to her so she could get my subscription money straight from my checking account.

“No,” I stated plainly. “I will not provide you that number over the telephone. I was asking if you would allow me to mail in a check, and then you could cash the check when you receive it.”

The answer was no, that was not acceptable, such an arrangement would disqualify me from the offer.

“I will not give you access to a credit card,” I stated calmly, “and I will not give you access to my bank account. Now about that ‘free’ gift card...”

Click. She hung up on me.

So, if you receive in the mail an unexpected certificate urging you to claim a $50 gift card, throw it away. Nobody wants to give you their wealth. Unfortunately, “free” gift cards are too expensive to accept. 


We asked readers: What’s the wildest scam you’ve encountered?

Too smart for Shelly!

A few months back I received an email from a woman named Shelly Fisher who claimed to be the president of the Colorado Women’s Leadership Summit. She said she was reaching out to me after viewing my LinkedIn profile to invite me to be a part of the group. At first, I was excited to get connected with other working women professionals as I’d just moved here a few years ago. However, when I went to Google the information (it even had an address listed in Denver!) I stumbled upon a Q&A forum where countless people had been contacted by “Shelly” about made-up leadership summits in multiple states. While I’m not sure what the purpose of the scam is, (to collect emails, maybe?) the summits that Shelly’s supposedly putting on and the groups she’s a leader of do not seem to exist. My coworker received the same email a few days later. From what I could gather, if you signed up for the conference or to talk at the summit, you’re asked to register on an unsecure website for an undisclosed amount, that some users discovered after the fact to amount to hundreds to thousands of dollars! As one user wrote, “Targeting smart women in business seems like the last approach they should be taking.”

-Lauren B.