Gift cards are popular among consumers because they can be used globally to purchase all types of goods and services. However, scammers have found new ways to take advantage of the non-traceable benefits of gift cards. Learn how to recognize, report and recover from a gift card scam.
Recognize a Gift Card Scam
Gift cards are a top payment method among scammers for multiple reasons. First, most big box stores, retailers and name brands offer gift cards, making them readily available to find and purchase, either in-person or online. In addition, other forms of payment (such as credit/debit or wire transfer) have protections in place, whereas gift cards are more like cash. Once the money is gone, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to trace it or get it back. Lastly, scammers don’t have to convince you to provide your banking or credit card information, they just need the gift card number and PIN.
Gift card scams can come in different shapes and sizes, however most of them use the same tactics to steal money from you. Keep your eyes peeled for scammers who:
- Create a sense of urgency or pressure you to act quickly.
- Pose as someone who claims you need to make a payment via gift cards to resolve supposed problems or emergencies. They may impersonate government officials, your boss, tech support agents, utility company representatives or loved ones, just to name a few.
- Pretend to be popular retailers or brands giving away free gift cards.
- Use phishing messages and fake websites to steal your personal or financial information.
- Tamper with cards by cutting seams, scratching off pin labels or putting stickers over barcodes so they can steal the funds as soon as you purchase and activate the card.
Report a Gift Card Scam
Even if you didn’t lose money or provide sensitive information, it is imperative that you report the scam. As a society, the more people that report scams, the more national reporting data that is collected and the better chance law enforcement has to catch the criminals and decrease online crime. There are multiple places where you should report a gift card scam:
Local Law Enforcement
If you sent gift cards to a scammer, call your local law enforcement on the non-emergency line to file a report. They may send you the the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center to file your report. Either way, provide them with all the information you have regarding the scam, including how the scammer contacted you and the type of gift cards you sent. A police report can help when you are speaking with the card issuer.
The Gift Card Issuer
After you have filed a police report, contact the company that issued the gift card. Be sure to hang on to the gift cards and your receipts. You may need to provide this information to the card issuer. Gift card issuers may have specific procedures for handling fraud claims, so be sure to follow their instructions.
Below is a list of contact information for common gift card issuers. However, this is not an exhaustive list. If you don’t see the company’s contact information here, look for their contact information on the card itself or search for their contact information online.
Amazon: Call Amazon’s Customer Protection Review team at 888-280-4331.
American Express: Call American Express Customer Support at 888-846-4308.
Ebay: Contact Ebay Customer Service
Google Play: Go to Google Play Help to report the scam.
iTunes: Call Apple Support at 800-275-2273. When prompted, say “gift card”.
Target: Call Target GiftCard Services at 800-544-2943.
VISA: Call VISA Customer Support at 800-847-2911.
Walmart: Call Walmart Customer Service at 800-925-6278.
Federal Trade Commission
Once you’ve filed a police report and contacted the gift card issuer, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission, even if you didn’t lose money or provide sensitive information.
Recover From a Gift Card Scam
Remember that it is important to act quickly if you believe you have been the target of a ‘free’ gift card giveaway scam. The sooner you take action, the more likely you are to minimize the damage and protect yourself from further harm.
- If you provided financial information, contact your bank or credit card company right away. They can help you monitor your accounts and prevent unauthorized charges.
- If you provided personal information, like your Social Security number, you may be at risk for identity theft. Keep an eye on your credit report and financial accounts for any unusual activity, and consider placing a freeze on your credit.
- If you clicked on a link, run a full system scan using antivirus software to check if your device was infected with malware.
Reinforce Your Online Security After a Gift Card Scam
After you’ve experienced a gift card scam and taken the initiative to report and recover, it’s time to reinforce your online security. By equipping yourself with a few simple tools and improving your online security, you can better protect yourself and avoid future scams.
Learn and Follow the Three Golden Rules
Slow it down — Scammers often create a sense of urgency so that they can bypass your better instincts. Take your time and ask questions to avoid being rushed into a bad situation.
Spot check — If you receive an unsolicited email or message, be cautious and verify the source before responding or providing any personal information.
Stop! Don’t send — No reputable person, business or agency will ever demand payment or personal information on the spot.
Gift cards are always a gift, never a form of payment.
Take 5 Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Security
- Set up multi-factor authentication (MFA) on every account. MFA is an easy way to maximize your security and ensure that you are the only one who can gain access to your accounts. When using MFA, you need two or more credentials to verify your identity. You may already be using MFA without even realizing it. When you use your debit card (something you have) and enter your PIN (something you know) to access your account at an ATM, you are using two credentials to verify your identity.
- Review and update your privacy settings regularly. Privacy settings allow you to control your personal information (name, address, phone number, date of birth, financial details, photos or videos, etc) and how that information is used. Review your privacy settings on all of your accounts including your social media accounts. Consider restricting who can see your friends list, contacts, photos and posts.
- Keep your software and devices up to date. Updates are a set of changes to an app, software or operating system that are pushed by the developer to fix or improve it. Oftentimes, cybercriminals take advantage of security flaws to plant malicious software on your devices. By keeping your software and devices updated, you will automatically patch security vulnerabilities to protect your data.
- Use a password manager and create strong passwords. A password manager is a type of software that stores and manages your login credentials so you don’t have to memorize each one. It can also help you create complex, unique passwords for each account. Be cautious of free versions and be sure to research all of the options before choosing one that is right for you.
- Learn how to spot the signs of a phishing attempt. Phishing is one of the biggest threats we face online. Phishing messages tend to include a sense of urgency. If they are asking you to click on a link or reveal sensitive information, be suspicious.
By taking these simple steps to strengthen your online security, you are setting yourself up for a safer online experience.
Gift card scams have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, and it is important to be aware of the warning signs and take steps to protect yourself. By familiarizing yourself with common scams and staying vigilant when purchasing gift cards, you can reduce your risk of being scammed. Additionally, reporting any suspicious activity to the relevant authorities can help to prevent others from being targeted. If you do find yourself the victim of a gift card scam, it is important to act quickly to minimize any potential losses and protect yourself.
A previous version of this blog was originally posted on April 1, 2022.