CVS warns stores nationwide after tricky Indy rip-off

CVS store at 5208 W Washington in Indianapolis that was hit by money transfer scam.

CVS store at 5208 W Washington in Indianapolis that was hit by money transfer scam.

(Indianapolis) — A CVS worker in west Indianapolis didn’t even realize it was a setup until her cash register door suddenly popped open.

Now the nation’s largest pharmacy chain is telling all 7,327 of its stores to watch out because it’s only the latest in a series of surprise attacks on retailers.

Police were called to the neighborhood CVS at 5208 West Washington Street in Indianapolis on Friday, after a scam artist was successful in having hundreds of dollars wired from the store’s coffers directly into his account.

The west Indy worker told police she answered the phone and a very convincing sounding man told her he was employed by MoneyGram, a wire transfer service that allows people to send money around the globe.

The very competent sounding caller said he needed her help to install some new software that would keep the CVS computers in tune for all future wire transfers that customers may send or receive at the store.

For the unsuspecting worker, it likely sounded as harmless as the Coca Cola man calling to ask for help with the store’s Coke display.

The worker kept punching buttons on the stores computer and cash register system, following every detailed step that the caller was giving her. Any moment now, she figured she’d be finished in upgrading the software that the store needed to perform some of its daily business.

When the caller told her to punch one more button to complete the upgrade, her cash register door popped open.

Police say the employee knew right away she had fallen for a con because the cash register only pops open in that fashion when a sale is completed.

The caller, who gave a fairly common male name and claimed to be calling from Valparaiso, Indiana had already said goodbye. He was gone, but when that cash register drawer flung open, a wire transfer of $948.95 of the store’s money had been transferred instantly to the scammer.

“This is a scam common in the retail industry,” wrote Mike DeAngelis in a Tuesday e-mail from CVS corporate office in Rhode Island.

“It is not specific to CVS, nor does it require any insider knowledge of our systems,” he wrote.

He said all stores in the Indianapolis market were notified to keep their guards up after this weekend’s crime. Separately, he said all CVS stores nationwide got an alert from headquarters for all employees to guard against this racket.

“We remind our stores on a regular basis not to accept requests for such transactions over the phone,” DeAngelis wrote.

He emphasized that no private credit card or prescription information from customers has ever been compromised with this wire transfer scam. The money comes out of the store’s account and flashes out over the wire transfer network without ever dipping into the store’s main frame computer that stores customer information.

When asked to quantify how many CVS stores had been hit with the crime, he declined to provide even a ballpark number.

Moneygram has a web page dedicated to common rip-offs, but scams aimed at retail outlets are not listed on there.

One message is clear on the posting: Once the money is transferred, victims of any scam won’t be able to get it back, whether you’re CVS or the lady down the street who wires money to a stranger.

In 2009 and again this month, the FTC levied massive penalties against Moneygram, accusing it of looking the other way while some of its crooked agents used the money transfer system to line their own pockets. The company said it disagreed with the findings, but it paid the fines.

Unlike the Western Union money transfers of 30-years ago, where you actually had to walk into a bank or a business and present identification in order to walk away with money, Money Gram and other services now allow online wire transfers.

Online crooks know exactly how to create phony identities and leave very few digital footprints, including bank accounts that they open and close quickly in order to receive wire transfers and then withdraw them with the cash going right into their pockets.

If it’s as widespread a threat as CVS suggests, it’s yet another danger lurking for retail workers who are swamped with holiday shoppers.

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