GOLDEN, Colo. — Shopping on Amazon has been a lifeline for many people during the pandemic, so when tens of thousands of those people get notices of "suspicious activity" on their Amazon accounts, some go into panic mode.
Contact Denver7 has been hearing from too many Amazon customers who figured out too late who those notices were really from.
Jimi, who asked to only be identified by her nickname, says shopping on Amazon saves her time and trouble. She buys items up to three times a week.
"I like to use it because it's easy," she said.
But last week, she got a phone call from a woman claiming to be an Amazon security manager asking about a suspicious charge.
"A LinkedIn account came back with a woman with that name that said she is Amazon security manager," Jimi said. "And that's how I fell for it."
Thinking she had been hacked, Jimi gave remote access to her computer and a sophisticated con began.
"She told me the only way we can get rid of these hackers is for you to buy a 'security card' is what she called it," Jimi said. "And I said, 'a security card? I've never heard of one.' She says, 'Well, Apple, Google. They all have it.'"
The so-called security cards were actually gift cards that Jimi bought at a nearby Walgreens and King Soopers in Golden.
The caller kept demanding more, sending texts claiming that Jimi would be refunded by Amazon.
"Right then, I said, 'I don't have that kind of money,'" she said. "But I lost $1,000 that I will not get back before I realized it was a scam."
Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission posted in a blog about a "rampant rise" in so-called Amazon impersonation scams. From July 2020 through June 2021, 96,000 people reported being targeted with losses topping more than $27 million with the reported median individual loss totaling about $1,000.
"In that one-year period, reports about Amazon impersonators increased more than fivefold," the FTC said.
"Be prepared. If you get this phone call, it's not legitimate," said Denise Mehnert, the interim commander for Golden police.
The Amazon scam is a new twist on a far too common gift card scam, Mehnert said.
Denver7 found signs warning about it in both of the places where Jimi bought her gift cards.
"Gift cards are just that — they're gifts," Mehnert said. "Hang up the phone. Delete the message. If you want to make sure it's fraud, you can call the company back directly from a number you find."
But the FTC reports that many companies, Amazon included, have made it challenging for people to detect and stop scams like this because there is no easy way to identify whether a message is genuine.
Jimi was able to get some of her money back from PayPal, file a police report and freeze her credit. Now, she just wants to warn others about what to watch for.
"I am ashamed that I fell for it," Jimi said. "I'm afraid that they're still using accounts. And I haven't cried, but I'm devastated about the loss of my identity and the loss of my money."
Editor's note: Denver7 seeks out audience tips and feedback to help people in need, resolve problems and hold the powerful accountable. If you know of a community need our call center could address, or have a story idea for our investigative team to pursue, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (720) 462-7777. Find more Contact Denver7 stories here.