Gift cards are a popular gifting solution, I must admit I prefer an iTunes or Amazon gift card during the holidays, my birthday, or if a client wants to send a tip and doesn’t like PayPal.
But unlike scammers/criminals, if someone wants to tip me with a gift card they will send me the gift card itself — I don’t force anyone.
Criminals love gift cards, and they will use social engineering tricks to persuade people to buy the cards and then give them the gift card code or redemption codes. These codes will give the criminals instant access to the cards’ value — and the money on it is gone.
a technique that uses psychological manipulation, fraud, or dishonesty to force people to disclose private personal or corporate information, or to take a particular action.
This is What Usually Happens
- A scammer/criminal will call you out of the blue and will say you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen, is happening, or has happened. They can be very convincing, but know that whatever they are telling you, is not true.
- The scammer/criminal will typically tell you the specific kind/brand of a gift card to purchase. Along with how much money to put on each gift card. The gift cards will vary depending on the scam but are usually Google Play, Target, Amazon, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, or an iTunes gift card. Sometimes they say to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious. Plus, the scammer/criminal might also tell you to keep them on the phone while you go to the store and load money onto the card.
- Once you tell the scammer/criminal that you have purchased the gift cards, they will ask you for the gift card code or redemption code and PIN. Once the scammer/criminal has that information they will have immediate access to the money you loaded onto the gift card.
Scammers Pretend to be Someone They’re Not
Scammers/criminals will use a variety of social engineering tactics to scare or pressure you into acting quickly. They do this so that you don’t have time to think — or talk to someone you trust.
Here are some of common gift card scams:
- The scammer/criminal calls and states they are from the government — perhaps the IRS or the Social Security Administration. They say you have to pay taxes or a fine or be immediately arrested. Our government doesn’t work that quick!
- A scammer/criminal calls and says they are from Apple or Microsoft tech support, and that they have detected a problem on your computer. Sounds nice, but big companies aren’t going to call you out of the blue. Ever!
- The scammer/criminal pretends to be a friend or family member in an emergency — or states they are a friend of that person — and asks you to send money right away, but not to tell anyone. If you’re worried, hang up and call your friend or relative to check that everything is all right. This scam can also arrive as an email, simply delete the email.
- A scammer/criminal will call and state that you’ve won a prize — but first — you have to pay fees or other charges with a gift card. No legitimate business will ever make you pay with a gift card. And if you think about it (which scammers/criminals don’t give you time to do), did you even enter a contest?
- A scammer/criminal will call and say they are from your power company or other utility company. They will threaten to cut off your service if you don’t pay immediately. But utility companies don’t work that way.
What to do if You Paid a Scammer with Gift Cards
Remember that gift cards are not for strangers who call, email, or text you out of the blue.
If you paid a scammer with a gift card, tell the company that issued the card right away. Look for the company’s contact information on the card itself, or do some research online to find out how to reach the card issuer.
If you can’t find the contact information or the card issuer doesn’t want to talk to you, report it to the FTC.