Available at more than 50,000 retail locations, MoneyPak cards cost about $5. Consumers pay cash to put dollar value on the cards, which can then be used for such things as topping off a PayPal account, paying certain utility bills and funding about 120 brands of reloadable prepaid debit cards — which includes the new AARP Foundation PrePaid MasterCard from Green Dot. Prepaid cards function like traditional checking account debit cards, without the checks.
A MoneyPak comes with a scratch-off 14-digit serial number. To transfer funds to a prepaid debit card, holders call or visit the MoneyPak or Green Dot websites and reveal the number.
And that’s where scammers step in. “Fraudsters will call or email you, saying that you won a lottery or can buy discount merchandise at their phony websites — but you need to pay fees to get your prize or purchase that merchandise via MoneyPak — and only MoneyPak,” says Green Dot spokesman Brian Ruby. “They then ask for the 14-digit code.”
Reveal that — in spite of a warning on MoneyPak cards not to do it — and the crooks can then transfer your MoneyPak funds to their own prepaid debit cards, typically opened under stolen identities, to make their own purchases or ATM withdrawals.
As Scam Alert previously reported, scams using MoneyPak initially appeared in 2009 as a way to get unsuspecting victims to pay “finder’s fees” to secure nonexistent government grants. The timing was not coincidental: At the time, the Federal Trade Commission was cracking down on wire-transfer scams.
MoneyGram, the second largest wire-transfer company, faced accusations from the commission that it had knowingly allowed fraudulent telemarketers to use its system to bilk consumers out of tens of millions of dollars. MoneyGram reached an $18 million settlement with the FTC in that case.
The latest variation: People posing as representatives of utility companies call customers saying they should pay their bills with MoneyPak and provide the impostors with the serial number.
“You need to treat your MoneyPak like cash,” advises Ruby. “Do not give the 14-digit serial number to anyone except if you call or visit the MoneyPak or Green Dot websites. Anyone who calls you saying you need to buy a MoneyPak and give its code is probably a scammer.”
Other ways to safeguard your card:
- Be wary of websites or online advertisements in which you’re specifically asked to pay with a MoneyPak card, rather than also allowing the use of credit or bank-tied debit cards.
- Remember that if you're told you have to pay any kind of advance fee to collect a prize or get a job or government grant, it’s a scam.
- If you want to use MoneyPak funds to buy from online merchants, first transfer the funds to your PayPal account. Never directly provide your MoneyPak number to an online merchant.
- Don’t trust online merchants just because their websites display a MoneyPak or Green Dot logo; scammers operating phony websites often fraudulently use these logos. Only these approved partners are vetted to accept MoneyPak funds.
- Treat the funds loaded on your MoneyPak like cash and understand that unlike credit cards, MoneyPak transactions cannot be reversed. If you lose the MoneyPak or give the number to crooks, MoneyPak won’t refund your funds. And the money on your MoneyPak is not FDIC-insured.
- If you have any questions about MoneyPak cards, call 1-866-963-6219. Call 1-800-473-3636 about other Green Dot cards.
Also of interest: Don't make these 5 common financial mistakes.
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