gift cards
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Watch Out For Gift Card Scams

Do not gift the wrong person.

Thanksgiving Day officially ushered in the holiday season for 2022 yesterday, Thursday, November 25, 2022 — and especially starting with Black Friday comes the commercialization of purchasing items at discounts for gifts to be given at Christmas and Chanukah…

Watch Out For Gift Card Scams

…and one item which is versatile is the gift card, which can be purchased from most retailers and used on just about anything which is offered by the retailer that issued it. Additionally, retailers will offer financial incentives to purchase gift cards — such as adding a coupon which is worth ten dollars when purchasing a gift card that is worth $50.00, as one of many examples.

Along with the increase in purchases in gift cards is the increase in interest of nefarious individuals who are looking to scam people of as much value from gift cards as possible — and people do fall for those scams.

One example of a scam is when an unsolicited telephone call is received, and the caller asks you to pay for something by putting money on a gift card — and then ask for the numbers which are found on the back of the gift card. The term gift card implies that gift cards are for gifts and not for payments — meaning that if someone asks you to pay them with gift cards, it is a scam; and anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer.

“No real business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card”, according to this article with advice for consumers from the Federal Trade Commission of the United States. “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.”

Once the scammer has the number on the back of the gift card — as well as the personal identification number to access it — they essentially have your money; and you will likely never see that money again.

Scammers may tell you different stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this list from the aforementioned article is what usually happens:

  1. The caller says it’s urgent. They say you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen. They want to scare or pressure you into acting quickly, so you don’t have time to think or talk to someone you trust. Don’t pay. It’s a scam.
  1. The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, or Target gift card. They might send you to a specific store — often Walmart, Target, CVS, or Walgreens. Sometimes they tell you to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers will not get suspicious — and the caller might stay on the telephone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. If this happens to you, stop. It is a scam.
  2. The caller asks you for the gift card number and personal identification number or PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. Don’t give them those numbers. It’s a scam. You’ll lose your money, and you won’t be able to get it back.

Only scammers try to convince you to pay with gift cards. If you know how to spot their tactics, you will be able to avoid the scam, and help others spot and avoid it.

This list of common gift card scams and schemes is from the aforementioned article of the Federal Trade Commission:

  • The caller says that they are from the government — maybe the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration. They say you have to pay taxes or a fine. It is a scam.
  • Someone calls from technical support — perhaps claiming that they are from Apple or Microsoft. They say there is something wrong with your computer and you have to pay them to get it fixed — but it is a lie.
  • You meet someone special on a dating web site, but then they need money and ask you to help them. This romance scammer makes up any story to trick you into sending them gift cards. Stop. Never send money or gifts to anyone you have not met in person — even if they send you money first.
  • The scammer pretends to be a friend or family member in an emergency and asks you to send money right away — but not tell anyone. This is a scam. If you are concerned or worried, hang up and call the friend or relative to check that everything is all right.
  • Someone says you have won a prize, but first, you have to pay fees or other charges with a gift card. Remember: no honest business or agency will ever make you pay with a gift card. But also — did you even enter that sweepstakes?
  • The caller says they’re from your power company, or another utility company. They threaten to cut off your service if you do not pay immediately. But utility companies do not work that way. It is a scam.
  • You get a check from someone for way more than you expected. They tell you to deposit the check, then give them the difference on a gift card. Do not do it. That check will be fake, and you will be out all that money.

Final Boarding Call

If you paid a scammer with a gift card, immediately contact the company that issued the gift card. Keep the gift card and any receipts you have that are associated with it.

Also, be sure to read this article whose title is 9 Reasons to Be Careful About Buying Gift Cards to further protect yourself when using gift cards.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

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