AARP Eye Center
Three-quarters of U.S. adults said they planned to buy gift cards during the 2022 holiday season, according to an AARP Fraud Watch NetworkTM report. But take care when buying or using gift cards: Scammers love them, too. It gives them numerous, virtually untraceable ways to steal.
The money you put on gift cards is like cash — once it’s spent, you almost certainly can’t get it back. Scammers have developed two distinct ways to exploit that fact: gift card payment scams and outright gift card theft.
Gift card payment scams
Gift cards are the most common way scammers seek payment from their targets, according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Con artists use Target, Walmart, iTunes and other popular gift cards as cash conduits in impostor and phone scams. Consumers who filed complaints with the FTC about gift card payment scams in the first nine months of 2021 lost $148 million — more than was reported stolen by this method in all of 2020.
And this likely “reflects only a fraction of the harm these scams cause,” the FTC notes, “because the vast majority of frauds are not reported to the government.”
Contacting you in the guise of someone else — often a representative of a government agency, such as the IRS or Social Security Administration or a well-known company like Amazon or Apple — scammers claim you owe a debt or need a service. They insist you buy gift cards and read them the serial and personal identification (PIN) numbers on the back to make quick payment.
Don’t believe it. Genuine businesses and government bodies never ask for payment via gift card. Any such request is a sure sign of fraud.
The same holds if you get an urgent call from a grandchild in distress, or if someone you’ve gotten close to online suddenly seeks a loan. A request for money via gift card means you’re dealing with a crook, not a loved one.