Gift cards are one of the easiest and most convenient presents to give someone around the holidays or for a birthday. If you are planning to purchase a gift card in the near future, beware of gift card scams. Gift cards are popular with scammers because they have fewer protections and restrictions compared to other payment options such as credit or debit cards. These deceptive acts are on the rise and fraudsters are getting more and more convincing every day. That doesn’t mean you should avoid gift cards altogether. If you are aware of the different types of gift card scams, you should be able to spot one.
What Does a Gift Card Scam Look Like?
Fraudsters often email, text, or call individuals and tell them they’re in financial or criminal trouble. For example, some victims may receive a message stating that they haven’t paid their taxes or fines and will ask for their social security number. Gift card scams work the same way too.
Common Gift Card Scams
IRS Impersonation Scam
This is probably the most common gift card scam. You receive a call or text from a cybercriminal claiming to be working with the IRS and they will tell you about past due dates on unpaid taxes and will send the police after you if you don’t pay the balance. These scammers will try to make you pay this fee or debt by purchasing gift cards and sending them the information on the back.
The IRS will never email, text, or call an individual about past due dates on unpaid taxes. Instead, they will send a letter with a legitimate phone number to contact the office. Also, the IRS will never demand payment of taxes with gift cards.
Scammers often use malware to take over your computer, lock you out, and access your information. If you have gift card numbers and PINs saved on your computer, cybercriminals will also gain access to this information. No matter what the computer is for—personal or work-related—if your computer gets into the wrong hands, it can be detrimental to you or your company. To help prevent this, apply computer/database security best practices by making sure your security software is up to date and enabling multi-factor authentication wherever possible.
CEO Request Scams
Have you gotten a message from your company’s CEO asking you to purchase gift cards for a client right away? Well, it’s most certainly a phishing scheme. Fraudsters use emails that appear to be from a legitimate source like your boss or CEO but are spoofing accounts that are designed to trick employees into sending them gift cards.
Cybercriminals use this to their advantage because the probability the target won’t ask their CEO any questions or challenge the request. Most likely, the victim will do as they are told without question.
Tech Support Scams
These types of gift card scams can be convincing because the criminal is impersonating tech support. This can come in various forms: they might call, text, or email you to warn of “suspicious activity” detected on your computer. They might ask you to pay through a gift card for an upgraded service.
Stolen Number Scams
It is possible for criminals to steal the information off the back of gift cards that are still in the store. When that gift card is loaded with funds at the register, it is technically activated, and when you want to use it or someone you gifted it to uses it, it is already balanced out because the scammer got it first. To avoid this, make sure the PIN number is not scratched off when you purchase the gift card.
How You Can Avoid Gift Card Scams
In order to protect yourself from these gift card scams, ignore calls or texts from anyone demanding that you pay for a fee or other debt with gift cards. If you are buying gift cards for a friend or family member, purchasing from reputable stores and checking for signs of tampering is recommended.