Giving and receiving gift cards is a popular way to show appreciation during the holiday season. However, with the popularity of gift cards also comes an increase in fraud and scams due to the impossibility of tracking the scammer. Learn about the different types of gift card scams, how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud, and how to protect your gift card information.
How do scammers use gift cards?
Scammers using gift card fraud tactics typically start with pressuring victims into buying a gift card. Then, scammers convince their targets to reveal the gift card number and PIN, which the criminals quickly redeem. In this case, scammers steal gift cards instead of credit cards because a purchase with a gift card is almost impossible to reverse. On the contrary, banks can cancel the purchase with credit cards and retrieve the victim’s money. Gift card thieves frequently establish connections with their targets by impersonating someone else, such as a government employee, a family member, or a significant other.
Types of gift card scams
Gift card scammers may contact their victims through phone calls, texts, emails, or social media messages. Usually, scammers go after gift cards issued by big companies like Walmart, Amazon, eBay, Target, Steam Store, or Google Play Store. Also, Vanilla gift card scams are very popular because these VISA gift cards are valid in any kind of store. Here are some of the most common types of gift card scams:
Money collection scams
It’s an attempted impersonation fraud if you get a phone call, text message, or email from someone claiming to be from the IRS or a utility company demanding payment for an outstanding debt. They threaten to imprison you or cut off your service if you don’t pay them. They also request that you buy gift cards and provide the information to pay your debt. Remember that the government and businesses never ask you to pay through a gift card.
Online auction scams
Some auction websites have scammers selling fake gift cards or ones with an empty balance. Most of these gift cards are invalid or don’t have any remaining money on the card. You need to be very careful not to fall into this fraud, fake gift cards are almost impossible to tell; usually, scammers use Photoshop to trick the victim and falsify the gift card. Remember that any gift card sold on an online auction website is probably a scam.
Fake gift card activation sites
When activating a gift card, type the URL from the information on the card directly on your default search engine. This will prevent you from entering your gift card data into a fake site; after entering your gift card number and PIN, there is no return, and the scammer steals your information and uses the balance on your card right away.
Scammers send malicious bots to businesses’ websites in order to scan the gift card registry and drain any active balances on the cards, this is why it is recommendable to activate a gift card when you plan to use it at the right moment. If you activate the gift card on an unofficial site and don’t use it, the scammers will then use the gifted funds to buy products for themselves or sell the remaining balance.
Winners of lottery and other competitions should never have to pay a fee, whether shipping or processing, to claim their prize. Especially not with a gift card.
Nowadays is very common to meet people through social media and start meaningful relationships. However, be very careful with this situation. Scammers tend to make fake profiles on social media to pretend to be friendly or to be romantically interested in you. After they have earned your trust, they claim to have money issues and ask you to buy them gift cards.
How to avoid becoming a victim of fraud?
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from gift card scams:
-Only buy gift cards from the issuer. Don’t buy a gift card for someone you don’t know. Make sure to buy gift cards from official sites or reliable ones.
-Remember that governments and utility companies never ask you to pay in gift cards. They will send a letter with a number to call if you need to pay something.
-Don’t buy gift cards in public places or second-hand. This way, you avoid buying blank balance gift cards.
-Don’t tell anyone the number or PIN on your gift card, and don’t send pictures from the back of your gift card. When someone can see your PIN, they can use the gift card to make purchases without your consent.
-Activate your gift card only when you are going to make a purchase, and make sure to do it on the official website that your gift card indicates you to. Always write the URL directly on the search bar to avoid visiting fake activation sites.
Gift card scams are becoming more and more common. The best way to avoid gift card fraud is to be vigilant and informed about the different types of scams out there. Knowing what to look for can protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming victims of this growing problem.
Be very careful when buying, selling, or using gift cards, and follow the tips above to avoid becoming a victim of fraud. If you think you’ve been scammed, report it to the police immediately.