If you receive an email telling you that AARP is giving you a $1,000 gift card, delete it. It's a scam aimed at collecting your personal information for a barrage of spam, phone calls and computer hacking. AARP is the latest target of this continuing con, in which you get emails or texts claiming that you've qualified for — or already won — a Visa gift card. Emails bearing the AARP name (misspelled as Aarp) were reported on Monday, after a wave of similar text messages in recent weeks falsely promised $1,000 gift cards from Walmart, Best Buy and Target.
At the site of the bogus AARP offer, you're asked about such things as your household income, credit and debit card ownership, level of credit card debt and any medical conditions that you have.
In this kind of scam, the information is usually sold to marketing companies that then telephone or email you if your answers indicate you might be interested in their products: low-interest loans, for instance, if you reported high credit card debt, or a "miracle" cure if you say you have arthritis.
Gift card messages can also be a front to collect personal information useful in identity theft. A final step toward claiming the bogus AARP gift card requires you to download an app. It's unclear what that app does, but with other such offers, scammers have used this step to install computer malware that could provide remote access to your files, passwords and financial accounts.
Email continues, but text the new rage
When Scam Alert first reported on gift card scams five years ago, these offers came almost exclusively via email. Nowadays, cellphone text message is becoming the more common delivery method. However it's done, scammers can use readily available computer software to simultaneously distribute thousands of notifications.
The email promising an AARP card was sent from the United Kingdom, and leads to a website reportedly registered to a London-based company that hosts websites and sells Internet addresses. Efforts by Scam Alert to reach company officials were unsuccessful.
Within one hour of completing the email's brief survey (and reporting moderate credit card debt), Scam Alert received two online "loan approvals" and two credit card offers. Each email required more personal information, and there never was a mention about the status of our supposed gift card.
The bottom line: Neither AARP nor other legitimate organizations issue gift cards unsolicited by email or cellphone text message. If you receive such a notice by email, delete it without responding. Text messages should be forwarded to 7726 (which spells SPAM on most keypads); do not respond "STOP" or "NO" to a provided number, as that only lets spammers know you're a live, active contact.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.
Also of interest: You Earned a Say interactive Social Security tool. »