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How to Avoid Gift Card Scams

Gift cards are trendy to give as well as to get. They’re a convenient way to treat someone to a meal at their favorite restaurant, purchase an item of their choosing, or give them cash to use anywhere the card is accepted. Unfortunately, scammers also love gift cards and have come up with creative ways to convince you to purchase cards for them.

In 2021, consumers reported over $148 million lost to gift card scammers. Many consumers reported being contacted by the IRS, Social Security, and power companies, who told them they were liable for penalties. Others say Amazon or Apple instructed them to pay to continue service. Some say they were contacted by impersonated law enforcement and told to pay a fee to avoid a warrant.

In most cases, the scammer attempts to scare or alarm you, claiming that something terrible will happen if you don’t pay them immediately. They want you to act quickly, so you don’t have time to think it through or to check into the issue further.

You're told payment must be made using a gift card instead of a check or online payment. You don’t need to mail the card; simply tell them the serial and personal identification numbers on the back.

Here are a few more scenarios gift card scammers use:

Relative in Distress – You receive a call from someone claiming to be a loved one, usually a grandchild. They tell you they've had an accident or are stuck in a foreign country, unable to get home. They ask you to send money immediately using a gift or a prepaid card.

Clergy Members – They claim they are raising money for a worthy cause. They contact you by phone, text, or email, asking you to purchase gift cards and give them the numbers.

Resale or Auction Sites – Once you've shown interest in an item, the scammer will offer a discount if you buy it with a gift card. You give them the number and never get the item you purchased.

Be suspicious if any government agency, company, or loved one asks you to pay them with a gift card. If you’re unsure, contact the agency or company using their official website, not a number provided in the suspicious message. If someone claims to be a relative, contact the immediate family to verify that a payment is needed.

Like cash, once a gift card is handed over to someone, it’s tough to get the money back. You're not protected from fraud like you are with major credit cards.

If you're contacted by anyone insisting that payment must be made with a gift card, it’s very likely a scammer. Keep these scenarios in mind to stay alert as the holiday approaches, and scammers begin to ramp up their efforts. 


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