Nearly $700,000 was reported lost by Edmontonians who fell victim to a convoluted gift card scam in the first half of 2019.

Edmonton Police Service received 136 reports of internet scams related to gift cards between Jan. 1 and July 15. The overall loss was $683,000.

The scheme has targeted people across the country.

According to EPS, those scammed have received a call from a person pretending to be a bank employee who says an account has been hacked.

The fake employee asks victims to run a software program, which is actually a virus and which allows the scammer to remotely access the computer. Then, they ask the bank customer to log in to their account. The account typically shows two fraudulent charges on a credit card, for eBay and Google Play cards.

The scammer then pretends to contact Google to ask for a refund on the person's behalf, then comes back saying Google will only reimburse one value and that the bank customer must buy a Google Play card to make up the difference.

The scammer gives the victim a location to buy the cards at, and asks for a photo of the numbers on the back of the gift card.

“Scammers do this for a living,” Detective Linda Herczeg said.

“This is their livelihood, so they spend all of their time building an elaborate and believable scheme. They use a real bank’s identity, including an employee number, to legitimize their story. Anyone can fall victim to these scams.”

They also urge the victim to keep quiet under the pretense that they are assisting in an RCMP investigation.

The victims lose money when the scammer deposits money into their account and at a later time asks for funds to be transferred to an RCMP officer. They also encourage victims to send money to a person in India using a "money in minute" service to prevent loan fraud by a relative, and tell the victim to again purchase gift cards at a location chosen by the scammer. However, when money is then deposited back into the victim's account, it is actually being pulled from another of their own accounts or a line of credit, police said.

The scammers repeat the process until the victim is no longer convinced.  

EPS said it is important for citizens to be vigilant, especially when information can be so easily found through public domains.

Those who believe they have been a victim are asked to report it to police at 780-423-4567 or at a police station. A fraud can also be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.