How to Spot a Gift Card Scam
Gift card scammers use a variety of story lines, but their approaches are often the same. Follow the real-life example below to see how easy it is to spot and protect yourself against a gift card scam.
A victim reached out to Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend, over concerns about a possible gift card scam. The young woman sent Shelley several screenshots of a text message thread between the victim and the scammer. The young woman said that the money she “earned” seemed too good to be true, at first. But as the fraudster increased pressure and urgency in the matter, she grew uneasy. Thankfully, Shelley was able to help the victim recognize the scam and contact proper authorities.
In Shelley’s words, “Scammers purposefully reach out to victims who are vulnerable, crafting stories to match their needs and interests. In this case, the woman had posted her resume on a nanny job search website, indicating that she needed work and liked working with children. So it is no surprise that the scammer enticed her with a money-making opportunity and a plea to help a family.”
Download a text-based version of the narrative below to see the fraud in action and ways to protect yourself against a gift card scam.
7 Signs That Text is from a Scammer
In the experience described above, you can see that the scammer created a story based on the victim’s interest. The victim had posted her resume on a nanny job search website, so the scam involved helping a family. Other popular scam stories involve threats of family members in trouble, jail time if taxes are not paid, a special promotion on cable service, an unbelievably low price for a used car and so forth. Still, some people are simply lured into scams that they think are part-time jobs.
The one thing these stories ALL have in common is that the scammer needs payment through gift cards. That is the biggest red flag of the bunch.
Below is an actual consumer experience along with signs consumers can look for to identify a scam involving gift cards.
Red Flag #1: Scammer Contacts You Directly
Scammers often initiate contact and move conversations from reputable websites or services to private text messages. In this case, the scammer “met” the woman on a Nanny website, but initiated further contact via text message. This is a first step for many scammers because they want to move the conversation from a monitored site to one that will not be policed.
Red Flag #2: Scammer lives out of the area
Scammers often say that they live out of the state (or the country) to explain why they need your help running errands such as depositing checks and buying gift cards. Not being local also means they can’t meet up in person, making it harder for to find flaws in their stories.
Red Flag #3: Scammer pays more than expected
Scammers often send stolen or counterfeit checks written for more than the promised amount with instructions to cash the checks quickly. Banks are often required to release holds on deposits before the transactions clear–allowing just enough time for scammers to get victims to use the money to buy gift cards before the bank reverses the deposit.
Red Flag #4: Scammer tells you to buy gift cards
Here’s where this situation gets real. Once the gift cards are purchased, scammers tell the victims to send the gift card numbers immediately. They don’t ask for the cards, just the gift card information. Scammers then drain the value of the gift cards, leaving the victims empty-handed when the check fraud is discovered. This is a form of money laundering.
Red Flag #5: Scammer wants the gift card numbers
Once the scammer has the gift card numbers, the card balances will be immediately depleted without the victims realizing it. Then the scammers will ask them to do it again with increasing urgency.
Red Flag #6: Scammer tells you to HURRY
Scammers need the victims to act quickly so they can repeat the fraud before the fraudulent checks are discovered or their victims get suspicious. Victims who think they are making easy-money often repeat the process because the deal is so enticing. When the scam is fear-based (e.g. a loved one is in jail, you’re being investigated for tax evasion, you will soon be arrested, etc.), scammers pressure victims to move quickly so they will hastily buy large amounts of gift cards using their own money.
Red Flag #7: Scammer is persistent
Scammers use fake pictures, emotional pleas and false personal details to gain trust. Many use scare tactics too. Their stories often involve family members in crisis. Scammers are relentless and convincing.
Here is a list of other gift card scams you can spot and easily avoid. These list includes “gift card cloning,” “switched at the register” and other ways scammers try to steal the balances of gift cards. Be sure to only visit the website associated with your gift card before entering the numbers into a website. This post on the REAL MyPrepaidCenter.com provides additional details.
What to Do if a Scammer Contacts You
It’s that easy.
Your granddaughter isn’t stuck in a foreign country. There is no 2019 Jeep Wrangler available for $2,000. You can’t save a bundle on your cable service if you pay with gift cards. A job that pays you $1,000 a week just to buy gift cards does not exist. The woman from the dating website who needs you to send gift cards is actually a 39-year-old guy (or a computer) in another country. You’re being scammed.
Delete the text. Delete the email. Hang up the phone. Walk away.
If the scammer claims to be from your bank, insurance company, cable company or even the Internal Revenue Service, you can call the company or agency directly to see if there is any legitimacy to the offer. I assure you there is not.
No reputable business or government agency will ever ask for payment with gift cards.
What to Do if You Think You’ve Been Scammed
If you think you’re the victim of a scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission or call their toll-free number at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
Everyone loves gift cards. They’re the most popular gifts to give and receive.
Here are a few tips to ensure a positive gift card experience.
When buying a gift card, inspect the card packaging for signs of tampering, and be sure the PIN is covered. Buy gift cards from reputable sellers like directly from a merchant, a grocery store, or online at sites like GiftCards.com or a retailer’s own website.
If you bought yourself a gift card or received one as a gift, be sure to register it right away if you have the option to. And save the receipt until the gift card is redeemed. This will allow you to track your balance and, in many cases, protect your balance from loss or theft.
While most experiences are great, as with any product, sometimes scammers create problems for honest shoppers. Remember, no reputable company or government agency will ever ask for payment with gift cards.
If you think you’re a victim of a gift card scam, contact your local authorities immediately.
For more tips on how you can have a positive experience with gift cards, visit TheRGCA.org.