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Payment by gift card? It’s a scam!

Gift cards are popular and convenient… and not just for gifts. Con artists have latched onto gift cards as a convenient form of payment in their scams. In a 2022 AARP survey, 1 in 3 adults said they or someone they know had been asked at some point to purchase a gift card to pay a bill, fee or some other debt or obligation or to claim a prize. About one in four adults who were contacted reported they bought the cards, or approximately 13 million U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

man talking on a mobile phone and holding a gift card with text that says asking to be paid by gift card is always a scam always say no

Signs to watch for

1. You’re directed to buy one or more gift cards — often referred to as “electronic vouchers” — as a quick means of making payment.

2. You’re told to share the numbers on the back of the gift cards, by reading them off or sending a picture.

3. The request comes from someone you wouldn’t expect to ask for money this way:


Keep up with the latest scams by signing up for AARP Fraud Watch NetworkTM Watchdog Alerts.

How to Protect Yourself

Gifts Cards Are for Gifts — Not Criminals

AARP survey finds some deceived into buying cards for strangers

Top 5 Scams and How to Avoid Them

Join our free webinar, What 5 Top Scams Have in Common and How You Can Avoid Them, and learn why criminals might ask you for gift cards.


See a Scam? Report It

Option 1: Report your encounter to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline. You'll be able to speak to a fraud specialist and data from the Helpline will be shared with the Federal Trade Commission and used to identify trends and build cases against criminals.

Option 2: Report your encounter on the AARP Scam-Tracking Map. Your report will help warn others in your area. 

How AARP Can Help

Knowledge gives you power over scams. The AARP Fraud Watch NetworkTM equips you with reliable, up-to-date insights, and our free fraud Helpline is available to help you and loved ones if you need it. We also advocate at the state, federal, and local levels to enact policy changes that protect consumers and enforce laws. With AARP as your partner, you’ll be better equipped to stay ahead of scammers.

Call Our Helpline

Get the information you need to protect yourself

Report a Scam

See scams in your area or report a gift card scam

Watchdog Alerts

Keep up with scams involving gift card payments

AARP is fighting for you: According to the Federal Trade Commission, gift cards are one of the most popular and convenient ways for scammers to request payment. AARP is committed to cutting off this source of criminal money transfer by helping consumers identify warning signs and working with retailers on how to spot and intervene in a crime involving gift cards.

In our own survey conducted March-May 2021, more than one in five respondents had been approached by someone who asked them to make a payment using gift cards. Read more.

Common Scams Involving Gift Card Payments

Why Scammers Love Gift Card Payments

  • Readily available
  • Virtually untraceable
  • Easily converted to cash or bitcoin
  • Ability to move large amounts of money in small parcels


True Stories of Gift Card Scams

Romance Scammers Ask for Google Play Cards

Heartbroken 55-year-old unknowingly helped launder ill-gotten gains

Criminals Rip Off Retiree for $35,000 in Gift Cards

To scammers, gift cards are good as gold, hard to trace and hard to replace

Scammers Pose as Clergy, Ask People for Gift Cards

Impostors prey on the faithful for funds — and keep the loot

Grandparents Deceived by Scammers Demanding Cash

'Grandchild in jail' scheme costs Americans millions

How a Family Battled Their Mother's Fake Relationships

Romance scammers asked for money in gift cards

Heard on the Helpline

Customer Service graphic


In 2021, AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline callers reported nearly $100 million in losses, and 12 percent of the callers reported losses from gift card payments, sometimes called  “electronic vouchers.” 

Some gift card brands mentioned by Helpline callers include:

  •  eBay
  • iTunes
  • Best Buy
  • Apple
  • Google Play
  • vanilla
  • Sephora
  • American Express
  • VISA
  • PlayStation
  • Steam 
  • Home Depot
  • Amazon