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PHOENIX (CBS5) -
Scams of all kinds have historically involved the victim wiring cash to a stranger, but now that many consumers have gotten wise to this fact, scammers have found a new way for them to pay them.
They're called Green Dot MoneyPak cards. They're reloadable debit cards, available everywhere, and you can use them to pay your phone, cable, or credit card bill. They're typically for people who don't have, or want, bank accounts.
Scammers like them because they're more convenient than a money wire, but just as untraceable.
"My fear was that I was going to lose my job, and my home, and my car," Dean DeVirgilio said.
Even with his autism, DeVirgilio still tends to all his own affairs. Recently, he got a call from a debt collector who claimed DeVirgilio owed $1,300 on an old payday loan. The caller said, "pay it, or else."
"Threatened to send the sheriff to my workplace, send a warrant for my arrest, and have me in jail for three years for fraud," DeVirgilio said.
Federal law prohibits debt collectors from using intimidation, threats and harassment, and no one can be jailed over a debt. DeVirgilio should have realized then he was dealing with a scam artist and the debt wasn't real. Instead, he sent the scammer the money.
"I feel I'm never going to get that all back, that's hurting me right now financially," DeVirgilio said.
How the phone caller demanded payment is a growing trend. Dean was instructed to go to Walmart, load a Green Dot MoneyPak card with the cash, then scratch off the back and call with the number.
"I read off the number, he wrote the number down, and he collected that payment. 'And you had nothing left on the card after that?' Nothing left on the card after that," DeVirgilio said.
Green Dot MoneyPak cards are not linked to bank accounts - the money is on the card. Anyone you share your card number with, has instant access to your cash and can siphon the card dry.
"He stole every cent of my money," DeVirgilio said.
The Green Dot website warns customers about possible scams and reminds them to never give their card number to people they don't know. DeVirgilio hopes others will learn from his mistake.
"Do not give those people the number off the card," DeVirgilio said.
Even though Green Dot Money Pak cards are available in 50,000 locations, and scammers could send their victims anyplace, they tend to push them to Walmart. They want you to go to a place you know and trust so you feel comfortable buying the card.
Green Dot MoneyPak cards serve a purpose for some people. The cards aren't the problem, so remember if you use them, never share your number with a stranger.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.
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