Scammers have Pittsburgh in their crosshairs with 3 top schemes

PITTSBURGH — Channel 11 is committed to helping you protect your money. And right now, our region is in the crosshairs of scammers. In 2021, Pennsylvania was ranked in the Top 10 for states at the highest risk of identity theft and fraud.

That’s why Channel 11 Morning News Anchor, Katherine Amenta and State Police put some of the biggest scams under the microscope and tell you what you can do about them.

“I got a text from what looked like the CEO of the company,” recalled Tom Toscano. “[It]...asked me to talk to him and I was really scared.”

Tom Toscano works in IT. But, for a moment, even he was fooled by this text and thought he was getting fired. Before answering though, he stopped - and listened to the questions swirling in his head.

“Why is this guy talking to me? He never talks to me directly,” Toscano remembers asking himself.

Tom was right. It was just the latest attempt by criminals in Western PA to steal your money and personal information.

“Usually, we see these spikes if they’re getting [a] good success rate,” said State Trooper PIO Rocco Gagliardi.

I did a deep dive with Gagliardi into the problem, who says the solution is prevention and getting criminals to lose interest in our area. Unfortunately, certain scams are rampant right now in our region -- like the “gift card scam”.

“Every scam call is going to have some sort of a threat,” said Gagliardi.

Maybe they tell you, your cell phone contract expired, or you didn’t pay your bill. And then they tell you to send gift cards to pay.

He says there’s no company that would ever demand payment in gift cards.

“This is the easiest one to raise the red flag on, but it’s also the most common,” said Gagliardi.

There’s also “the bank call scam”. They tell you your account is frozen and they need your account information. And this call used to come from a random number.

“Now in December, we saw a really big issue where, they’re either spoofing the correct area phone number, so they’re up as a 412 or 724...” said Gagliardi.

Or - they’re actually now getting the number to show up on your phone as maybe, PNC Bank or First National.

Teens aren’t immune either. During COVID, the “social media lottery scam” blew up, hoping teens would fall for some quick, free money.

“Hey, I just came into a bunch of money,” demonstrated Gagliardi. “I won the lottery. I want to give back to my community...”

But, instead of getting money, you end up handing over money, when the criminal says they accidently Venmoed you too much.

“This needs to be an average conversation with young-to-the-old at dinner once a month,” said Gagliardi. “Hey, is anyone messaging you on social media platform, asking them for money? Hey is anyone asking for gift cards?”

And if you do fall victim to any of these scams, it’s crucial to report it to police right away and never let embarrassment stop you from coming forward - because you’re certainly not alone.

“They look so legit...they’re so good that they’ll fool anybody,” said Toscano.

Trooper Gagliardi said store cashiers also have a role to play in prevention. If you see someone buying thousands of dollars’ worth of gift cards, that’s a red flag and they should consider asking the person if they need help.

We also have ways to report a scam below:

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