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Tuesday was another normal day for Malibu Seawolves coach Erik Ran.
The Seawolves is a swimming club and as has been the case various days since May 5, Ran was at Malibu Community Pool on Morning View Drive.
“I was coaching a workout,” he told Surfside News.
Then he started getting strange phone calls, along the lines of, “Where are you?” “Are you OK?” and “Why do you want me to buy you a gift card?”
Ran, it seems, was the pawn in an email scam, playing on the emotions of the recipients in an effort to get money out of them.
To the average person, the email, with a subject line that mentions the coach by name, probably seems real, down to having been sent “from” the Seawolves account.
“I need an urgent favor,” it begins. “I'm supposed to get an eBay gift card OR iTunes gift card for my friend who is a cancer patient, It's her last birthday but i can't do this now because I'm currently traveling and i tried purchasing online but unfortunately no luck with that.”
“Can you get it from any store around you? I'll pay back as soon as i am back. Kindly let me know if you can handle this so i can tell you how much.”
The message is signed, “Blessings! Erik Ran.”
But Ran wasn’t traveling. In fact, the tale spun in that email is a familiar scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
In a consumer alert, the commission explains that fraudsters will use what looks like an actual email account to ask recipients to pay for something by putting money on a gift card, like a Google Play or iTunes card, and then ask for the numbers on the back of the card.
“If they ask you to do this, they’re trying to scam you,” according to the FTC.
This scam is a popular one because gift cards are easy for people to find and buy, “and they have fewer protections for buyers compared to some other payment options,” says the FTC. “They’re more like cash: once you use the card, the money on it is gone. Scammers like this.”
The Ran scam is typical in that the would-be crook made an urgent plea and then suggested which cards to buy.
Once the person being scammed purchases the card or cards, says the FTC, the scammer asks for the card number and PIN.
“The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. And the scammer gets it right away.”
Surfside News got the scam email and contacted Ran right away.
“Thank you Scott. Yes, my email got hacked,” he said. “Happened on Tuesday morning. Everybody started calling as I was coaching a workout.”
That the email was filled with typos is not surprising. Experts say this could be a tell-tale sign that something shady is a foot.
Unless someone admits to following through with the email request, it may never be known whether anyone fell for it.
The FTC suggests anyone who does fall for this type of scam to report it right away to the company that issued the card.
Dupes can also report scams and fraud to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
While it may not resolve the case that sparked the report, the information is shared with law enforcement “to investigate and bring cases against fraud, scams and bad business practices.”