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Gift Cards from eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes Top Scammers' Wish Lists

FTC urges people not to send gift cards, reveal serial numbers to fraudsters

eBay gift card

Patti McConville / Alamy Stock Photo

En español | It's a number one spot no retailer wants: eBay gift cards were the brand most often requested by fraudsters during the first nine months of the year, followed by Google Play, Target and iTunes cards.

That news from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) comes with an urgent reminder: Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. The cards make great holiday presents, but scammers use trickery to get them, since they are a ticket to fast cash. Key points to know:

  • Don't ever make a payment or cover a supposed debt with a gift card.
  • Don't ever give a stranger the card's serial number and PIN.
  • Don't ever take a photo of the numbers and send the image to a stranger.

Almost a quarter-billion dollars lost

Nearly $245 million in gift card fraud was reported to the FTC between January 2018 and the end of September of this year. The median individual loss was $840. About one in four people who complained about losing money to fraud said they had paid using a gift card or cards.

Certain types of scams seem to lend themselves to illicit requests for gift cards, according to the FTC. Here are the most common ways gift cards were used fraudulently during the first nine months of the year:

  • 6,586 business impostor frauds
  • 4,708 government impostor frauds
  • 1,790 tech-support scams
  • 1,665 romance scams
  • 1,582 family and friend impostor frauds
  • 864 fake check scams
  • 711 prize, sweepstakes and lottery scams

Percentage of Top Fraud Types that Requested Gift Card Payments

Joining forces with retailers

The FTC is partnering with retailers nationwide to prevent consumers from losing money to gift card scams. Here's more on the campaign.

When eBay became a hot commodity for fraudsters this year, it knocked Google Play gift cards out of the top spot, the FTC says. eBay, in a statement to AARP, said it is committed to creating services that are “safe, secure and trustworthy” and that it provides fraud-prevention tips for consumers.

Not only are fraudsters specifying the brand of gift card they want, they are also telling people where to buy them, says the FTC, which identified Walmart, Target, Walgreens and CVS as likely venues.

At times, alert store employees have stopped gift card sales, but “scammers work hard” to prevent that, telling their victims not to reveal why they're buying the cards and even coaching them on what to say if someone tries to intervene, the FTC says.

eBay Warning: Be Alert to Gift Card Scams

Here’s what eBay told AARP after the FTC said eBay gift cards have been a hot commodity sought by criminals the year. The statement was lightly edited for length:

Criminals often exploit well-known, trusted brand names like eBay to attract consumers and then lure them onto fake websites and into fraudulent transactions.

Scam artists will list items for sale on fake landing pages, Craigslist or other non-eBay trading sites, and promise eBay’s protection as a means of completing the scam, but these transactions don’t take place on the eBay platform.

Key tips for consumers:

  • If someone asks you to use an eBay gift card to pay for something that is not listed on the eBay site, this is a scam.
  • Never give or send your eBay Gift Card code to anyone outside of eBay.com checkout. That’s a scam.
  • Your eBay Gift Card can only be redeemed at checkout on eBay.com.
  • Do not use your gift card to pay anyone outside of the eBay platform.  

If you’ve been scammed, contact eBay Customer Service immediately and report the matter to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.gov

More tips are on the eBay Security Center and on our Gift Cards FAQ page.


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AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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