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BBB warns of ‘prison gift’ scams

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By Better Business Bureau staff

If you have an incarcerated family member or friend, sending a package is a way to show you care. But do your research beforehand. The Better Business Bureau has gotten several reports of fake inmate care package services targeting people online.

How the scam works

You find a website that offers to send care packages to inmates online. The website looks professional and allows you to specify the prison or facility, as well as the inmate’s name. You add items to your cart and place your order.BBBlogo2021

However, when it’s time to make a payment, you may notice some strange instructions. Many fake care package sites claim they currently don’t or can’t take credit card payments. Instead, you’re asked to make a payment via a third-party app, such as PayPal, Zelle, or CashApp.

If you make the purchase on a scam site, your account will be charged, but the care package won’t arrive. These websites are fake and designed to receive payments (without producing the goods). Any attempts to get in touch with customer service representatives will be met with silence.

One victim told BBB that they spent more than $130 on a care package that didn’t exist: “I purchased a package for my fiancé whom is in prison… I used my cash app. It requested I send proof of purchase. Which I sent! I tried emailing the company several times about my purchase and they haven’t responded at all!”

How to avoid care package scams

  • Understand the laws around care packages. Prisons have strict rules about inmates can receive. Each item in the care package needs to be carefully selected to meet prison regulations. Be sure to check with the specific facility.
  • Check website reviews from outside sources. Don’t rely on reviews found directly on the website. These are often made up by scammers. Instead, research companies on other websites, such as BBB.org. Look closely at customer reviews, with a watchful eye for complaints about unfulfilled services or refusal to refund money. If you can’t find any reviews, search the company or website name along with the words “scam” or “fake” and see if you come across any negative reports.
  • Always use your credit card to pay. Be wary of any company that won’t allow you to use a credit card to pay. Once you send money through a third-party app, it can be much harder, if not impossible, to get your money back.
  • Beware of lookalike sites. If you have used a reputable inmate care package service in the past, double check your browser before you make another purchase. Scammers are masters at creating lookalike websites.
  • Check for contact information before making a purchase. Make sure any company you do business with has a legitimate phone number, email, and/or physical address that checks out.

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