Gift cards make giving presents easy, but they’re also an easy target for scammers trying to trick people.
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel reports that around one in four people who lost money to fraud got scammed when a scammer convinced them to share the numbers on the back of a gift card.
These reports reveal that fraud involving gift cards is way more common than with any other way of paying, and the numbers have gone up a lot compared to past years.
Gift cards are preferred by scammers because they’re easy to find and buy. Compared to other ways of paying, gift cards have fewer protections for buyers and the scammers don’t have to reveal their identity.
4 Common Examples Of Gift Card Scams
1) Gift Card Payment Demand Scam
The gift card payment demand scam is a prevalent one that involves receiving a phone call where the caller pretends to represent a business, organization, or government agency.
The nature of the call can vary, with claims ranging from owing taxes to needing to pay a fine or facing a frozen account. Regardless of the story, the scammer’s ultimate goal is to convince you to make a payment using a gift card.
The caller will stress the urgency of making an immediate payment to avoid something bad happening.
Secondly, they will specify the type of gift card you need to buy and even recommend a particular store. Popular choices for scammers include Target, Google Play, Apple, eBay, and Walmart.
Finally, the scammer will ask you to stay on the line and provide the gift card number and PIN. If you share this information, the scammer can use the card which has your money.
Genuine government agencies and businesses will never request payment through gift cards. If someone on the phone asks for payment with a gift card, hang up immediately. Do not engage further with such callers.
2) Stolen Gift Card Codes
This scam comes in various versions, but the goal remains the same – to steal your hard-earned money.
In one scenario, fraudsters swipe gift cards off store racks and cunningly remove the protective strips hiding card numbers or PINs. They pilfer these vital numbers, sometimes covering their tracks by replacing protective strips with fresh stickers, and discreetly return the cards to the store racks.
These scammers then monitor online activity (or use clever software) to pinpoint when money gets loaded onto these cards. The stolen card numbers are then exploited for unauthorized purchases, catching you off guard when you discover your card balance is reduced to zero.
Another deceitful tactic involves scammers concealing gift card barcodes with barcodes from already activated cards. Unsuspecting consumers, thinking they’re purchasing and loading money onto their intended cards, unknowingly channel funds onto the scammers’ already activated cards.
Be careful when buying gift cards in physical stores. Watch out for signs of tampering, like missing protective strips covering card numbers and PINs, or barcode stickers obscuring original barcodes.
3) Discounted Gift Card Scams
You should take your time when considering discounted gift card deals online. While some legitimate gift card resale sites have protective measures in place and offer customer guarantees, you can’t trust all sources.
Steer clear of discounted gift cards promoted by individuals on social media or online auction platforms. If you come across a gift card advertised at a price significantly lower than its face value, it’s likely too good to be true. Such deals could involve stolen, fake, or already used cards.
If you’re enticed by discounted offers, thoroughly research gift card resale sites. Check customer reviews and ensure your prospective reseller provides a reliable money-back guarantee.
Taking these precautions will help you to make informed decisions and avoid the pitfalls of deceptive discounted gift card schemes.
4) Gift Card Giveaway Scams
Always proceed with caution whenever you receive emails or text messages claiming you’ve won a gift card from a familiar business or organization.
The scam begins with the promise of a prize, but to claim it, you’re asked to share personal information or follow a link to a website. What the scammers aim to achieve is get your personal details, either for identity theft or to sell them.
To avoid falling victim to gift card giveaway scams. refrain from clicking on any links in emails or text messages, especially if they’re requesting personal information in exchange for a gift card.
Instead, independently verify the legitimacy of the giveaway by directly contacting the supposed business or organization through official channels, such as their official website or customer service phone number.
What To Do If You’re A Target Of A Gift Card Scam
If you happen to be a target of a gift card scam, here are steps you can take to minimize the impact and protect yourself:
- Do not share information – Avoid providing any additional information to the scammer. Such information could include personal details, financial information, or any more gift card numbers.
- Cease communication – End any communication with the scammer immediately. Do not engage in further conversation or respond to their attempts to contact you.
- Contact the company – If the scam involves a fake business or organization, contact the legitimate company directly using official contact information. Verify the legitimacy of the claim with them.
- Report the scam – Report the incident to relevant authorities. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. On top of that, inform your local law enforcement agency.
- Warn others – I think it’s prudent to share your experience with friends and family to raise awareness and prevent others from falling victim to similar scams.
- Check your accounts – Monitor your bank and credit card statements closely for any unauthorized transactions. If you notice anything suspicious, report it to your financial institution immediately.
How To Avoid Gift Card Scams
Scammers will use different tactics to convince people to hand over your hard-earned money through gift cards. By learning how to identify gift cards scams, you can be in a position to avoid them altogether.
You can identify such scams by the following hints:
- Urgency and pressure – Scammers often create a sense of urgency, pressuring you to act quickly. They might say you owe money or that a family member is in trouble. Be careful of any situation demanding immediate gift card purchases.
- Unusual requests – Genuine organizations rarely ask for payment in gift cards. If someone insists on gift cards as the only form of payment, it’s likely a scam.
- Unsolicited calls and emails – Have you received unexpected calls or emails claiming a problem that requires gift card payment? You need to verify the information independently before taking any action.
- Too good to be true – If an offer or situation seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers use enticing promises to lure you into their traps.
Can You Get A Refund For Stolen Gift Cards?
Wondering if you can trace or get money back for a gift card that got swiped by scammers? Unfortunately, it’s really tough to do that.
The prudent thing to do is to reach out to the company that issued the gift card. Every company has its own rules, and they handle situations like this in different ways. It’s a good idea to get in touch with them and see if there’s any chance of recovering at least some of the money you lost.
When you contact the company, make sure you have all your documents ready. The person on the other end of the line will probably ask for proof that you bought the card. Gather as much evidence as you can to show that you didn’t use the card and that it was someone else who did.
The rule of thumb is to act quickly immediately when you notice any issue. The faster you reach out to the company, the better chance you have of resolving the situation.
Don’t be afraid to explain your case and ask for their help. While there’s no guarantee, some companies might be able to assist you in getting back some of the money that was taken.
As consumers, it is paramount to exercise caution when someone insists on payment via gift cards, especially in unfamiliar or unexpected situations.
Understanding the allure of gift cards to scammers unveils crucial insights for protecting ourselves and our communities against fraudulent activities. The simplicity, accessibility, and limited buyer safeguards associated with gift cards make them an attractive target.
By comprehending the different reasons why do scammers want gift cards, you can empower yourself to stay vigilant and informed.