Gift Card Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Them

We all know gift cards as a simple and convenient way to give people a gift – you can find them at most big name stores and there is something for everyone. Gift cards are great because they’re like cash so the recipient can buy anything they want. Their likeness, and distinct difference, to cash make them a common tool that scammers use to steal money from people. Remember this – gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Anyone who tells you to pay them in gift cards is a scammer.

What does a gift card scam usually look like?

Gift card scams can begin with many different scenarios. The one thing all gift card scams usually have in common is a sense of urgency to send the money right away. The scammer may threaten you or use emotional tactics to guilt or scare you into sending the money.

Once the scammer has you convinced, they tell you to go to a particular store and purchase a certain type of gift card – usually a popular one such as Amazon, iTunes, or Google Play. They will often insist to stay on the phone with you during the transaction and then will demand the card information immediately once the purchase is complete. Otherwise, they will tell you to call them back once you have the gift card information. After the information is handed over, you will likely never hear from the scammer again.

Common scams include:

  • Caller pretending to be the IRS, saying you owe back taxes and will be put in jail if you don’t pay
  • Caller posing as a charity asking for donations in the form of gift cards
  • Caller posing as a family member or friend who needs you to help them post bail
  • Caller saying they are from tech support or a computer company and need money to fix or unlock your computer
  • Someone who buys something from you online sends you a check for more than the price of the item and requests the rest back on a gift card (the check will turn out to be bad)
  • Caller pretending to be a family member or friend saying they are stranded somewhere and need money to get home
  • Caller saying you’ve won a sweepstakes you never entered but needs a gift card to fund other charges associated
  • Online auctioneers who ask for gift cards to purchase items – especially large items like cars, boats, RV’s, etc.
  • You meet a “lover” in an online chat room. After a few weeks or months, the “lover” requests you to send gift cards to help them afford to travel to you.
  • Someone posing as a military service member (to get sympathy) trying to sell something quickly before he is deployed and needing you to pay by gift card
  • Caller pretending to be your utility company and threatening to turn off your power or water if you don’t pay
  • Callers pretending to be the FBI saying suspicious activity has happened under your social security number and asking you to pay to verify it wasn’t you or there will be a warrant put out for your arrest
  • Caller pretending to be the Social Security Administration saying your social security number has been suspended and you need to pay them in gift cards to get it back
  • Caller posing as a state trooper stating you didn’t show up for jury duty. Says you will go to jail unless you post “bail” with a gift card.
  • Caller saying they are your financial institution and need gift cards to settle some type of expense. Note: Patriot will never ask you to purchase gift cards to take care of any payments. If you get a call from someone saying they are from Patriot and asking you to give them gift card information, call us at 888-777-9982 before telling the caller anything – this is NOT Patriot.

What if you’ve already been scammed?

If you realize you’ve been scammed quickly enough, call the company that issued the card right away and tell them you’ve been scammed. If the money is still on the card, they may be able to get your money back. Also be sure to tell the store you bought the gift cards from as soon as possible. Once these things have been done, file a police report.

Tips to Avoid Other Gift Card Scams

Sometimes, scammers will attack the people who are purchasing the gift cards as gifts. In this instance, the scammer either writes down or scans the numbers of gift cards that have not yet been sold. They keep these numbers and repeatedly check the card’s associated website or phone number until a balance is placed on the card. Once the scammer knows there is money to be spent, they either create a duplicate plastic card that can be used in stores, or use the card information to make a purchase online.

To avoid this gift card scam:

  • Buy gift cards in the middle of the rack, not on the front
  • If someone urges you to buy a certain gift card, don’t. It is probably a scam.
  • If you have a choice between a very accessible place to purchase gift cards and a less accessible place, choose the less accessible area.
  • Purchasing gift cards online minimizes the chance that someone has already scanned the number
  • Some manufacturers put packaging around gift cards – be wary of damaged packaging and choose a different card
  • Keep an eye on the card the entire time you are purchasing to avoid possible tampering by the cashier

The best way to avoid being scammed is to be very aware. Always think twice before giving ANYONE personal information or money of any kind. Try not to give into emotions and think logically instead– does this request make sense? Would the IRS or the government really ask for a gift card to pay taxes, bail, or other legal fees? Again, gift cards are for GIFTS, not payment for taxes, bail, or fees of any kind. If it relates to any government entity, gift cards CAN’T be used for payment.

If you ever find yourself in any of the above situations or think you might be in the midst of a scam, STOP and do not hand over any money. As a Patriot member, you can always call our member service team at 888-777-9982 or stop into one of our branches and we will talk through the situation with you to help determine if you are being scammed. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to giving scammers your money.

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