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How a Grocery Store Cashier Saved a Couple From a $4K IRS Scam

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A Maryland grocery store employee reportedly saved a couple $4,000 when she talked them out of loading money onto prepaid debit cards.

“I said, ‘Don’t buy it, it’s a scam,’” Patricia Keller told ABC7 News in Washington, which first reported the story. “They had a whole wad of money like you wouldn’t believe. And they said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

The couple had received phone calls from people claiming to be Internal Revenue Service agents, the TV station reported. The impersonators told the couple their family was under IRS investigation, and in order to stop it, the couple needed to immediately pay the IRS thousands of dollars. Even though they didn’t go through with the purchase at the Rockville Safeway, where Keller works, the couple had already put $3,000 into the scam.

Employees at the Rockville Safeway have been trained to spot scams by taking note of suspicious behavior, people who appear nervous or customers planning to spend a lot of money on money transfers, prepaid debit cards or gift cards. That background motivated Keller to speak up when the couple came to her to load $4,000 on prepaid cards.

The prepaid debit card is a favorite among scammers — they’re easy for consumers to get, and once the victims have shared the card information, the scammers can use the money immediately. The funds become difficult to trace, and there’s little hope for victims trying to recover their losses.

It’s a common scheme — as long as people fall for it, the tactic will persist among criminals — though it’s not often you hear about a cashier catching it. Store employees are in the business of keeping customers happy, so questioning their purchases can be a risky move, even when something seems off. That’s a good thing for fraudsters, who count on cashiers’ reticence in order to pull off their scams.

As a consumer, you can hope a store employee would help you avoid getting scammed or reject a purchase someone tries to make with your stolen credit card, but the best thing you can do is look out for yourself. Know the signs of a scam — like threatening calls from someone claiming to be an IRS agent or debt collector — and monitor your credit and financial accounts for signs of fraudulent activity. You can get two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com and you can pull free copies of your credit reports once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Even with all the policies in place designed to protect consumers, it’s very much your own responsibility to ensure your financial security.

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