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When ‘Do Me a Favor’ is a Scam

We humans are generally helpful by nature. And this tendency is something criminals often seek to manipulate — whether it’s a sham tug-at-your-heartstrings charity, a fake crisis of a loved one, or now the “Can you do me a favor?” scam. The latter typically involves criminals posing as bosses, friends, family members or even a local faith leader. But they all have one thing in common: a request for gift cards.

How It Works:

You receive a brief but urgent message from someone you know asking for a quick favor — run to the store and pick up some gift cards, and the person will reimburse you later.

  • The message can come by email, text or social media, and the sender claims to be traveling or is otherwise tied up.  
  • The ask may come from a supervisor at work who needs the gift cards for an employee appreciation event, a faith leader who is looking to quickly help a family in need, or a family member or friend.
  • The request is for a specific gift card and a specific amount, and they ask you to snap photos of the front and back (exposing the PIN) and to send them the pictures.

What You Should Know:

  • Gift cards are attractive to criminals — they are everywhere, are not generally trackable and can be converted to cash in an instant.
  • Anytime someone asks you to buy gift cards and share the numbers off the back, it’s a scam — full stop.

What You Should Do:

  • Verify. If you get a message like this from a name you recognize, contact the person in a way you know to be legitimate and ask if he or she sent it.
  • If you buy gift cards, only later to learn you have been involved in a scam, contact the retailer or card issuer immediately. If the funds weren’t drained in full, you may be able to get some of your money back.
  • Remember that all scams are crimes. If you ever experience financial loss from a scam, contact the police to file a report. If you get resistance, persist so that you have a formal record in the event of possible future restitution.

Support for Fraud Victims: The AARP Fraud Watch Network offers AARP VOA ReST, a free program that provides emotional support for people affected by fraud. Hour-long ReST sessions are confidential small-group meetings that are held online and led by trained peer facilitators. Experiencing a scam can be devastating, but it doesn’t have to define you. Interested? Visit to learn more.

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.