What is a Gift Card Scam?

posted on Thursday, August 10, 2023 in Fraud

Gift Card Scam

Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. As soon as someone tells you to pay them with a gift card, that’s a scam. Gift cards are popular with scammers because they’re easy for people to find and buy. They also have fewer protections for buyers compared to some other payment options. They’re more like cash: once you use a gift card, the money on it is gone.

How Gift Card Scams Work

Gift card scams start with a call, text, email, or social media message. Scammers will say almost anything to get you to buy gift cards — like Google Play, Apple, or Amazon cards — and hand over the card number and PIN codes. Here are some common tactics scammers use in gift card scams:

  • Scammers will say it’s urgent. They will say to pay them right away or something terrible will happen. They don’t want you to have time to think about what they’re saying or talk to someone you trust. Slow down. Don’t pay. It’s a scam!
  • Scammers will tell you which gift card to buy (and where). They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, Target, or Apple gift card. They might send you to a specific store — often Walmart, Target, CVS, or Walgreens. Sometimes they’ll tell you to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious. The scammer also might stay on the phone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. If this happens to you, hang up. It’s a scam!
  • Scammers will ask you for the gift card number and PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card — even if you still have the card itself. Slow down. Don’t give them those numbers or send them a photo of the card. It’s a scam!

Common Gift Card Scams

Scammers tell different stories to get you to buy gift cards so they can steal your money. Here are some common gift card scams:

  • Scammers say they’re from the government. They say they’re from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or even the FTC. They say you have to pay taxes or a fine. But government agencies won’t contact you to demand immediate payment, and they never demand payment by gift card. It’s a scam!
  • Scammers say they’re from tech support. They say they’re from Microsoft or Apple and there’s something wrong with your computer. They ask for remote access and say to pay them to get it fixed. Don’t give them access to your computer. It’s a scam!
  • Scammers say they’re from your financial institution. They say they’re from your bank or credit union and they claim your account has been hacked. To fix the situation, you must comply by purchasing gift cards from a local store.  They may even say that if you do not comply, the FBI will get involved. Your financial institution will never ask you to do this. It’s a scam. Hang up the phone and call your financial institution back on a trusted phone number.
  • Scammers say they’re a friend or family member with an emergency. If the scammer uses voice cloning, they may even sound just like your loved one. They ask you to send money right away — but not to tell anyone. It’s a scam. If you’re worried, hang up and contact the friend or relative to check that everything is all right.
  • Scammers say you’ve won a prize. But first, they tell you to pay fees or other charges with a gift card. It’s a scam. No honest business or agency will ever make you buy a gift card to pay them for a prize. And did you even enter to win that prize?
  • Scammers say they’re from your utility company. They threaten to cut off your service if you don’t pay immediately. But utility companies don’t work that way. It’s a scam!
  • Scammers ask for money after they chat you up on a dating website. Romance scammers will make up any story to trick you into buying a gift card to send them money. Slow down. Never send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person — even if they send you money first.
  • Scammers send a check for way more than you expected. They tell you to deposit the check and give them the difference on a gift card. Don’t do it. It’s a scam! That check will be fake and you’ll be out all that money.

What To Do If You Gave a Gift Card to a Scammer

If you bought a gift card and gave someone the numbers off the back of the card, that’s a scam. Use your gift card and gift card store receipt for these next steps:

  • If you have fallen victim to a Gift Card Scam, please contact us immediately at 866.360.5370 or stop by your local branch to speak with a C1st Representative. 
  • Report the gift card scam to the gift card company right away. No matter how long ago the scam happened, report it. 
  • Tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Every report makes a difference.