INDIANAPOLIS - The nation's largest pharmacy chain is alerting thousands of its stores nationwide after an Indianapolis employee was duped into wiring nearly $1,000 to a caller pretending to upgrade the store's money transfer software, police said.
Officers were called to the CVS Pharmacy at 5208 W. Washington St. on Friday after a scam artist was successful in having hundreds of dollars wired from the store’s coffers directly into his account, police said.
The CVS worker told police she answered the phone and a very convincing man told her he was employed by MoneyGram, a wire transfer service that allows people to send money around the globe.
The 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, the worker told police.
The worker kept punching buttons on the stores computer and cash register system, following every detailed step that the caller was giving her. When the caller told her to punch one more button to complete the upgrade, her cash register door popped open.
Police said 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, 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," Mike DeAngelis wrote 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 said all stores in the Indianapolis market were notified to keep their guards up after this weekend’s crime. Separately, he said the 7,327 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 webpage dedicated to common rip-offs, but scams aimed at retail outlets are not listed.
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 customers actually had to walk into a bank or a business and present identification in order to walk away with money, MoneyGram 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.