Elderly veteran with Alzheimer's disease conned out of more than $40K in gift card scam

Jason Knowles Image
Thursday, December 21, 2023
Elderly veteran with Alzheimer's conned out of over $40K in gift card scam
An 84-year-old veteran with Alzheimer's Disease was conned out of more than $40,000 in a gift card scam by thieves pretending to be with ComEd.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An 84-year-old veteran with Alzheimer's Disease was conned out of more than $40,000 in a gift card scam.

The man's daughter said she was so desperate to stop the ongoing scam that she changed her father's phone number and cut off access to his accounts.

Jenna Weeks' father lost more than $40,000 dollars buying gift cards and giving the codes to scammers.

Criminals pretended to be ComEd representatives. They left voicemails, including one that said, "Hi, this is Pete from Com Ed, please give me a call, it's really urgent." They threatened him, saying the electricity would be cut off to his apartment complex if he didn't buy the gift cards.

"They're going to cut the electric on his whole property, which he manages three other units and obviously you know, we can't have people without electricity at the building, so this guy calls my dad multiple times a day, instructing him where to go, what value of the gift cards to buy and then reads them back to him," Weeks said.

Utility companies will never demand gift cards. Weeks said she's changed her father's phone number twice, but somehow the scammers found him and asked him to go to several local stores for more gift cards.

"This guy, whoever these people are, are really on my dad and I think they also know that he's unwell and he's an easy target for this," she said.

Weeks said her father purchased gift cards form more than a half dozen retailers but $19,000, almost half of the total lost, was spent on gift cards at local Sephora locations.

Sephora allows customers to purchase up to $2,500 of gift cards per transaction. In some cases, Weeks' father spent up to $2,000 per transaction.

Sephora said it "takes combatting fraud extremely seriously," and that it has "taken steps to protect customers by educating them on its website."

Sephora said it uses alerts at checkout about gift card scams when customers pay.

"We have implemented policies to regularly train all employees to ensure they have awareness of the issue and the steps they need to take," the company said in a statement.

Weeks filed a police report with the Chicago Police Department and detectives are investigating.

"If somebody is wanting you to use store gift cards to satisfy a debt, you can pretty much guarantee that's a scam," said Commander Andrew Costello of CPD's financial crimes unit.

He said anyone can fall for these scams, but you should make sure to let older loved ones know about the threats.

"Talk to them frequently. Keep an eye on their finances monitor their credit report so that if they do get scammed you can cut it off early and you are not losing lots of money, because these scammers will come back and will continue to try to get more money out of the person," he said.

The I-Team reviewed Federal Trade Commission data and found that gift card scam losses totaled more than $228 million in 2022. That's a slight decrease from 2021 reported losses, but an increase of more than $100 million from 2020.

"This is money that he needs for healthcare and to make sure that he's safe and protected from someone literally stealing his hard-earned money," Weeks said.

Weeks said she has been able to stop her father from using his banks accounts to pay for gift cards but that he recently has been finding ways to get cash to buy them, losing an additional $10,000.

ComEd said these type of gift card scams reported to them are down but the amounts people are losing have increased.