Gift cards are one of the most popular and convenient gift-giving options, offering a recipient the freedom to purchase whatever their heart desires. According to recent estimates, the global market for gift cards was valued at $899.3 billion in 2022.
Sadly, gift cards are also popular among scammers. They like gift cards because the funds are virtually untraceable. If you hand over the numbers on the back—whether deliberately or accidentally—it’s just like handing over a stack of cash. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Luckily, educating yourself and recognizing the most common types of gift card scams can go a long way in helping you stay safe from this evolving threat.
Gift Card Payment Scams
Scammers carry out gift card payment scams by convincing you to pay a fake financial obligation by purchasing gift cards and sharing the numbers off the back.
These scammers may:
- Pose as government agencies, law enforcement officials, utility companies, tech support experts, online sellers or even a loved one.
- Threaten to arrest you, take legal action against you or cut off your services if you don’t pay immediately.
- Ask you to use self checkout to avoid a suspicious cashier who may try to stop the transaction.
- Instruct you to buy gift cards at multiple different stores so that store associates don’t question why you are purchasing a large sum of gift cards.
- Want to stay on the line with you while you go to the store to purchase the gift cards so that they can talk you through any uncertainty that may arise from store associates.
- Tell you exactly which gift cards to buy. For example, they might tell you to purchase eBay, Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift cards.
‘Free’ Gift Card Giveaway Scams
Scammers steal personal information by posing as popular brands or retailers claiming to give away free gift cards. Once they have your personal information, they will sell it on the dark web or use it to carry out other crimes.
These scammers may:
- Initiate the scam using emails, text messages or phone calls.
- Promise you a gift card for completing a survey on behalf of a well-known company in an attempt to steal your personal information.
- Tell you that the giveaway is for a limited time only and that you must act quickly to take advantage of the offer. They do this so you will take action before you realize it’s too good to be true.
- Request that you pay a small handling fee in order to receive the gift card. You should never have to pay to receive a free gift.
- Send you to fraudulent websites to complete the survey or collect your sensitive information. To spot a fake website, take these steps:
- Look closely at what immediately precedes the final “.com”, “.org”, “.net”, etc. For example, “itunes.com.confirm-login-info.com” is not a real iTunes website. The actual domain is “confirm-login-info.com”.
- Inspect the website for spelling errors or design flaws. Although scammers want the website to look as legitimate as possible, they are moving quickly and may miss errors that a real company wouldn’t usually make.
- Check for the padlock icon and “https:” Although these can’t be relied on as a sole way to verify a website, they let you know that the connection between your browser and the website server is encrypted, preventing others from intercepting your communication.
Zero-Value Gift Card Scams
Scammers use different methods to drain the funds on gift cards that you legitimately purchased in-store or online.
These scammers may:
- Create fake activation websites in hopes that you will land on these fraud sites instead of the real activation site. When you enter the gift card number and PIN into the fake website, the scammer takes that information, activates it themselves on a real activation website and drains the value of the gift cards.
- Try to sell you used gift cards at prices that are too good to be true. Once you activate one of these cards, you’ll lose the gift card balance because they already stole the numbers off of the cards.
- Take a gift card from the display, copy down the number on the card, then put it back on the display. Then, they wait for you to buy the compromised gift card, checking the balance online until a dollar amount is loaded onto the card. As soon as a balance appears, they use the gift card number online or make a duplicate plastic gift card that can be used in stores.
- Pay close attention to damaged packaging, cut seams, scratched off pin labels, etc. If you find a damaged card, turn it into a store associate
Gift card scammers are sneaky, and they do their best to keep you from suspecting anything is wrong until you’ve handed over the numbers on the back. To avoid gift card scams, be wary of offers that are too good to be true, think things through and always take your time. Investigate further by looking closely at the website or the gift card itself before you hand any information over. By taking the necessary precautions, you can ensure that you spot gift card scams before it’s too late.