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Gephardt: Woman Loses $300 Trying To Help A Friend In COVID Crisis

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – If a good friend asked you for a small favor, you’d likely agree to help. But a Salt Lake City woman is kicking herself for doing just that after she ended up helping a crook instead.

Marilyn Smolka got an email from someone she’s known for a very long time.

“Could I do her a favor by getting some Google Play cards for another friend whose birthday it was who had COVID-19?” she recalls the email saying.

Sure, Marilyn replied.

“I mean, I don’t even know what Google Play cards were,” she said.

Google Play gift cards can be used to pay for apps, music, and more – and they’ve become a common way for crooks to quickly and anonymously get their hands their victims’ cash.

Marilyn was told to buy $300 worth.

“The salesperson even warned me,” Marilyn told the KSL Investigators. “He said, ‘Are you sure this is a friend of yours?’ I said, ‘Oh, yes. I’m sure this is a friend of ours because it’s from her email.’”

By the time Marilyn learned the email didn’t really come from her friend, rather a hacker who’d broken into her friend’s account, it was too late.

You can expect to see more scams like this one, where identity thieves zero in on their victims based on the personal information they stole and know about them. Alex Quilici, CEO of YOUMAIL, says such flim-flams are proving the most profitable for the bad guys.

“We see the world moving to very targeted scams,” he said.

Targeted scams, like exploiting the relationship Marilyn has with her friend.

She agreed to share her story with KSL viewers in the hopes others learn from her mistake.

“I hope other people pay attention,” she said.

As you can imagine, she’s far from alone getting targeted by scammers using COVID-19. In fact, there’s been so many scams, the FTC is on an information campaign, breaking down the different lies in an attempt to try and thwart it. Their advice can be found here.

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