Scam Targets Work Email, Mimicking Your Boss

"In hindsight, I should have been like, 'This is weird,' but your boss asks you to do something and you do it," a Chicago-area marketing professional said.

Chicago-area marketing professional Kari Hornfeldt said she was checking work emails when she saw a request with her boss' name on it.

The email asked her to buy $1,000 worth of Google Play gift cards for company clients -- and to do it within 30 minutes.

"In hindsight, I should have been like, 'This is weird,' but your boss asks you to do something and you do it," Hornfeldt said.

Turns out, it was part of a scam that targets businesses and their employees.

Hornfeldt bought the gift cards on her personal debit card after her company credit card rejected the purchase.

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"I basically used up all of the money in my checking account to buy these cards, knowing full well my company would reimburse me," she said.  

But soon Hornfeldt received more instructions, telling her to "scratch off the back code and email a clear picture of all the codes." 

An email confirmed receipt of the cards and thanked her.

Then came another request: "Sorry to bother you. We need more cards. Get back to me ASAP." 

Hornfeldt drove to a Best Buy in the north suburbs to buy more cards. That's where two quick-thinking employees warned her about the scam.

"They were the heroes in the story," she said.

Hornfeldt had been using her cell phone to check email, and when she took a closer look at the sender's address, she realized it wasn't her boss.

"I have to get this done in 30 minutes," she said. "So it's like by setting that precedent, they're setting you up to maybe miss things that you would catch normally."

The Better Business Bureau said scammers have tried to trick even them with the same type of email. 

Steve Bernas, president and chief executive officer for the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said scams like this happen to businesses large and small. 

"If anybody asks you to do something quickly and fast within 30 minutes, that is the scam," Bernas said. "That is the tipoff to the ripoff."

Hornfeldt said it all worked out in the end, and her company reimbursed her.

"My company was really great about it," she said. "I had a cry and then we all came back and had a good laugh about it."

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