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Class action lawsuit allowed to proceed


Apple gift card scams are one of the most common tactics of scammers impersonating the IRS, and a judge has now agreed with a group of victims who argue that Apple benefits from these scams, and ought to do more to help.

The scam victims filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Apple profits from the fraudulently obtained cards, and is in a position to block the use of them and refund purchasers. Apple asked for the case to be dismissed, a motion which has now been denied…

How Apple gift card scams work

A typical Apple gift card scan works like this. A victim receives a phone call from someone claiming to work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They are told that there is a problem with their tax filing, and that unless the matter is resolved immediately, they face arrest. When asked how to arrange payment, victims are asked to buy Apple gift cards (either Store or iTunes cards), and then pass the details to the caller.

This ought to clearly signal that it’s a scam: The IRS would of course never demand payment via gift cards. However, some people are so panicked that they are taken in by the scam and buy the cards.

What happens next depends on the type of card. With store cards, the scammers usually buy high-value products like laptops and smartphones, which are then sold. iTunes gift card scams usually work in a slightly different way, typically being used to buy paid apps owned by the scammers, so they receive 70% or 85% of the money when paid by Apple.

Either way, the cards are either immediately or very quickly used, at which point the victim’s money is gone.

Variations on the scam include claims that a relative or friend in distress needs urgent assistance, or that the victim will be taken to court for an unpaid bill.

The lawsuit

A number of victims filed a class action against Apple back in 2020, arguing that in the case of iTunes cards in particular, the company is in a position to refund some or all of the money, but refuses to do so.

The lawsuit says that Apple tells scam victims there is nothing that can be done once the money has been spent, but argues that this isn’t true. In fact, Apple holds 100% of the funds for a period of 4-6 weeks, between the apps being purchased and Apple paying the developer. During this time, the company is in a position to refund 100% of the card value.

Additionally, Apple takes a 30% commission, so would always be in a position to refund this much, even after the scammer has been paid […]

Many scam victims are elders, so three of the eleven counts accuse Apple of being in violation of laws designed to protect elderly people from financial abuse.

Court ruling

Apple filed a motion for the case to be dismissed on a number of grounds, one of which is that gift cards are sold with a published refund policy which says no refund is possible after a card has been redeemed. A judge has now refused this motion, allowing the case to proceed.

Court House News reports that most of the 11 counts in the claim were dismissed, including the claim that Apple aided in the scams, but two key ones remain: That Apple benefits from the scams, and that the company can do more to help victims.

Apple will have to face claims the company profited off of criminal enterprise schemes featuring stolen gift cars after a federal judge declined to dismiss claims the company benefited monetarily from sophisticated schemes that employ fake apps to swindle consumers.

U.S. District Judge Edward Davila dismissed some of the claims from a class of plaintiffs that said Apple aided in the fraudulent schemes, but he did say plaintiffs plausibly alleged the company did receive some of the proceeds from the fraud and failed to appropriately reimburse the victims.

“Apple stands to benefit from the proliferation of the scam, that Apple is fully capable of determining which accounts redeemed the stolen gift card funds and preventing payout of those funds and that Apple nevertheless informed Martin, Marinbach, Qiu, and Hagene that there was nothing it could do for them despite those plaintiffs’ prompt notification of theft, ”Davila wrote in the 28-page decision.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that gift cards scams cost victims $ 30M in 2020, and around a quarter of these involve Apple cards. However, this estimate is based only on reported cases, so the true amount is likely very much higher, as many victims are too embarrassed to admit that they have fallen for a scam. Some have suggested that the true sum is likely around 10 times the official estimate.

The next stage in the case will be a discovery, where Apple will be required to hand over relevant information about how it handles these scams. Information likely to be sought includes the company’s mechanisms for detecting fraudulent gift card transactions, and the total amount of money it makes in commission on scams.

Photo of scam victim: NJ

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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