Walmart workers credited with stopping scam targeting 90-year-old woman

From left to right: Jeanette Dickston, Walmart employee, Sgt. Dave Kempas, West Linn Police Dept., Martin Gilton, Walmart store manager, and Rebecca Garrett, Walmart employee. (Photo courtesy West Linn Police Dept.)

West Linn police call them "Walmart heroes."

Workers at the store on Willamette Drive are credited with stopping a scam targeting a 90-year-old woman.

A spokeswoman for Oregon's Department of Justice told KATU the crime attempted at the store is the most common scam in the state.

West Linn Police Officer Jeff Halverson said the department got a call from the store's manager Thursday after two employees, Jeanette Dickston and Rebecca Garrett, refused to sell gift cards to the 90-year-old woman.

"She had bought, was trying to buy gift cards for an unusual amount, $3,000, which isn't something they see every day," Halverson told KATU.

He said at first the woman couldn't explain why she was buying the cards.

"Our officers came down and spoke with the woman and she was actually in a cab that had been arranged for her by the person that wanted her to get these gift cards," said Halverson. "Finally got from out of the woman that the gift cards were for a gentleman representing himself as an IRS agent. He had convinced this woman that she had owed the IRS money and the only way that she could pay for it was to very secretively go down to Walmart and buy some gift cards and that he would then use the numbers to transfer that money into his account."

Halverson said the woman paid $40 for the cab ride to the store from her home in Oregon City. But he said officers tipped the cab driver and gave her a ride home themselves.

He said one officer called the scammer.

"Initially he tried to explain to him that he was the woman's son," Halverson said, "and when our officers identified themselves he hung up the phone and they weren't able to get in touch with him again."

No arrests were made, which Halverson said is common in cases like this.

"I know I spoke with one a month ago and then they ended up being out of a call center somewhere overseas," said Halverson. "It's almost impossible to track these guys down."

He said a sergeant gave the employees a West Linn police "challenge coin" honoring them for doing the right thing.

"It would've been real easy for them just to sell it and walk away and go about their business," Halverson said. "But in their gut they knew something was wrong."

Charles Crowson, Walmart's senior manager of corporate communications, told KATU their policy is not to do interviews regarding any incidents in stores.

He issued the following statement:

"We care deeply about our customers and have procedures in place to help protect them from criminal behavior. We frequently review our educational and prevention measures and when necessary, take additional steps to better inform our customers about the dangers of scams."

"The phony IRS calls and other scam calls received the highest amount of consumer complaints last year," Kristina Edmunson, communications director for Oregon's Department of Justice, said in an email. "We received about 5,000 complaints in 2016."

“The big thing is," Halverson said, "if you ever do get a call from someone representing themselves as the IRS or saying that they’re from the county and you’ve got warrants and the only way that you can rectify that is to go down and buy gift cards ... don’t do it, it’s a scam.”

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