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Gift Card Scams Growing

Gift card scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and hard to spot, sending emails to victims’ friends that sound convincingly like the victim! These scammers may pose as a friend asking for financial help or instruct people to make payments over the phone using gift cards for things such as taxes, hospital bills, bail money, debt collection and utility bills. 

How Gift Card Scams Operate

These scams follow a formula: The victim receives a call or an email instilling panic and urgency to make a payment by purchasing certain gift cards from a nearby retailer. After the cards have been purchased, the victim is asked to pay by sharing the code(s) on the back of the card with the caller over the phone.

Don’t Panic

Don’t lose your cool. If the call or email feels wrong, it probably is. No real business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card. Also, if a “friend” is asking for help in the way of you purchasing gift cards, call that friend personally to ask if they’ve recently sent an email with a request for help.  

Avoid Becoming a Victim

If you’re approached to use the cards for any other payment, you could very likely be the target of a scam and should immediately report it to your local police department as well as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

Never provide the numbers on the back of a gift card to someone you do not know. Once those numbers are provided to the scammers, the funds on the card will likely be spent before you are able to contact law enforcement. 

Tips from the Federal Trade Commission

The FTC offers an in-depth description of the problem with its Gift Card Scams online tip sheet. It includes information about the following:

  • What gift card scams look like 
  • How scammers convince you to pay with gift cards 
  • What to do if you paid a scammer with gift cards (and includes contact information for popular gift card companies)
  • Safely buying and using gift cards and how to report fraud

Your Reports Help Stop Scams

If someone asks you to pay them with gift cards, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov—even if you didn’t pay. You can also report it to your state attorney general. If you lost money, also report it to local law enforcement. A police report may help when you deal with the card issuer.

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