What's one of the first rules you were taught as a kid? More than likely, you were told not to accept candy from strangers or if it seems too good to be true, it probably is! We teach these rules to kids because they're important lessons to learn and remember for the rest of your life.
Case in point: there are fraudsters out in the world posing as an employer offering you a dream job, a buyer making a generous offer on junk you're trying to get rid of, or someone on a dating site asking for money so you can meet. These scammers are taking advantage of young adults just as much as they are exploiting the elderly. If someone you don't know offline or have never spoken to in person is requesting account numbers, PayPal information, or online banking logins to "send money" or wants you to send them gift cards, this is a scam! And it's becoming increasingly common.
One characteristic shared by all these scams is the urgent need for you to send the money right away. Imposters will sometimes ask you to wire the money to them or send funds via Western Union but, increasingly, they are instructing their victims to put the money on a gift card and send it to them. First, the caller will instruct you to go out and buy a popular gift card (frequently they will request iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon gift cards). They will specify that the card be purchased at a particular store nearby — often Walmart, Target, Walgreens, or CVS — or they may have you buy cards from several different stores. Sometimes the scammer will remain on the phone with you while you go to the store. Once you have purchased the card(s), the fraudster will then demand the gift card number and PIN on the back of the card. These numbers allow them to immediately withdraw the funds loaded on the card and, once they've done that, the scammers and your money are gone, often without a trace.
Other common gift card scams, some of them also involving imposters, include:
- Callers pretending to be from a utility company instructing you to pay your bill by gift card and threatening to cut off your power or water
- Sellers from online auction sites who request gift cards to purchase big items like cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs, tractors, and electronics
- Someone posing as a service member to engender sympathy, claiming they have to sell something quickly before deployment and asking for payment by gift card
- Callers claiming you've won a prize for a sweepstakes—one that you may have (likely) not entered—and first asking you to pay for fees or other charges via gift card
- A buyer of something you're selling who sends a check for more than the purchase price, then asks for you to return the difference on the gift card. That check will most likely turn out to be fake!
- Someone requesting bail money for a loved one who has been arrested
Gift cards are a popular and convenient way to give someone a gift, but they're also a popular way for scammers to make off with your money. Gift cards are essentially cash and if you buy a gift card that someone uses, there are no protections in place for you to get your money back when fraud occurs. A good rule of thumb: gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always a scammer.
If you suspect you've paid a scammer with a gift card, you should immediately contact the company that issued the card, alert them that the card you purchased has been used in a scam, and request a refund for your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to return your money. You should also contact the store where you purchased the gift card as soon as possible.
Below you will find a list of cards scammers commonly use along with information to help report fraud. If the card you used is not on this list, the company's contact information may be on the card itself or you may have to search for the gift card company's website to find their contact information.
- Call 1-(855)-466-4438
- Call Apple Support at 1-(800)-275-2273, then say “gift card” to be connected to a live representative.
- Call 1-(866)-795-7969
Don't see your card on this list? Search online for how to reach the card issuer.
Is there no contact information available? Is the card issuer reluctant to help? Did you lose money to a scammer? Contact the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) about any scams or frauds you've detected by visiting ftc.gov/complaint or call toll-free at 1-(877)-FTC-HELP. You should also report the fraud to your state Attorney General (for a list of state offices, visit naag.org)