Gift Card Scams: Outsmarting the Scammer

If you get a call from someone who says you have to pay them with a gift card, it’s a scam. Gift card scams come in many forms. The caller may claim that a family member is in trouble, say they are a government official and you have a warrant out for your arrest, or promise you a large sum of money from a sweepstakes. Each of them require you to purchase gift cards and act quickly. Don’t be tricked by these callers, they are scammers and armed with a little information, you can outsmart them and protect your finances and personal information. 

How it Works

Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. But they are popular with scammers because they’re easy for people to find and buy, and they have fewer protections compared to some other payment options. They’re more like cash: once you use the card, the money is gone and cannot be retrieved.

The caller will create a sense of panic and urgency in an attempt to get you to move quickly, reducing your time to evaluate the request. 

  • The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift card. 
  • Sometimes they tell you to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious.
  • The caller might stay on the phone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. 
  • The caller asks you for the gift card number and PIN. 
  • They tell you the call is confidential and you need to act quickly. 

Once you provide the caller with the information on the gift card, the money is gone. Gift cards are virtually untraceable and once the scammer has the money, it cannot be recovered. 

Beating the Scam

If you receive a call like this, we want you to do three things. 

    • Slow it down. Take your time and ask questions to avoid being rushed into a bad situation.
    • Spot check. Do your research to double-check the details you’re getting. If you get an unexpected phone call, hang up. Then look up the bank, agency or organization that’s supposedly calling and get in touch directly.
  • Stop! Don’t send. No reputable person or agency will ever demand payment on the spot. So if you think the payment feels fishy, it probably is.

Next Steps

If you have been impacted by a gift card scam, follow these steps. 

  • Contact the issuer of the gift card immediately, they may be able to offer assistance. 
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Report it even if you didn’t pay. Your report helps law enforcement stop scams.
  • You can also report it to your state attorney general.
  • If you lost money, also report it to local law enforcement. A police report may help when you deal with the card issuer.

Remember that gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. So when you receive a call like the ones described above, slow it down, spot check and don’t send. If it sounds unbelievable, it is.