A scam once associated mainly with big cities is now becoming commonplace in rural areas, Knoxville included; and police and retailers alike are warning people not to fall victim to it.

It involves the purchase of gift cards; the victim is told via text or e-mail that a relative is in jail, and they have to provide gift cards in order to bail them out.

Kelly Kayser from the Knoxville Hy-Vee tells KNIA/KRLS News they have seen plenty of instances where a panicked relative comes in to buy an unusually large amount of cards.

“We get two people a week who think their loved one’s in jail or they need something, and they’re so concerned with helping them that they don’t bother to call them and verify that…they are okay,” Kayser says.

“The main gift cards are normally Google Play and eBay, because you can’t track them; once you give that number to somebody, it’s gone and your money’s gone.”

Kayser says if her employees believe someone may be involved in such a scam, they should try to talk them out of following through with the purchase; she says preventing a fraud is more important than the store making a sale.

Knoxville Police Chief Dan Losada says such reports are far from unusual for his department; and he says scam artists are targeting rural towns such as Knoxville.

“They like smaller towns because the scammers, who are usually in bigger cities, think that the people in smaller towns are less educated. They also like to prey on the older people, and unfortunately Knoxville tends to have an older population; so we tend to get a lot of these reports of these things happening.”

Chief Losada says no police agency would ever accept gift cards or anything similar as payment for bail. And he says scammers often share information on victims; if a person falls for one, they may attract other scam artists trying to lure them into another — which can wind up costing the victim thousands of dollars more.