Picture this – you get an email from your boss asking you to purchase gift cards for a client. While it seems out of the norm for your boss to ask this, you’re willing to help out with whatever is needed. Right before making the purchase, you notice the email is from an address you don’t recognize and is not actually from your boss.
Does this sound familiar to you? This is what we call a gift card scam, which is more common than you may think. One in three adults have been targeted by these types of scams, but there are plenty of ways to spot and prevent them from happening to you.
What is a gift card scam?
Think about it this way – gift cards are meant for gifts, not to make payments. However, scammers tend to use gift cards because they’re easy for people to buy and are similar to cash – since the money is gone once the gift card is purchased.
Gift card scams can look different depending on the situation, but usually follows a similar pattern. You’ll receive a call or email asking that you pay with gift cards, and once they have your gift card number and PIN – they have your money. Scammers can be convincing by making it seem like they need the card urgently, which is how so many people fall into these unfortunate types of scams.
How do you know if it’s a scam?
If you’re being asked to pay someone through a gift card, it’s safe to say it’s a scam. That may sound simple, but scammers can be convincing by pretending to be someone you can trust. This is how they trick so many people.
Here are some common situations for gift card scams:
- The caller says they’re from your power company and threatens to cut off your service until you pay them (with a gift card).
- An employer says they are ready to hire you but need you to pay for your computer or other equipment through a gift card before you start.
- Someone says you’ve won a contest, but you’ll have to pay fees with a gift card before you can claim your prize.
- The scammer pretends to be a friend or family member saying they need money immediately for an emergency to be put on a gift card, but tells you not to tell anyone.
- You receive a call from the IRS or Social Security Administration saying you need to pay taxes or a fine immediately, via gift card only.
- You meet someone on a dating app who needs money and asks you for help.
- The person asking for you to make a payment through a gift card asks for you to purchase it through specific retailers like Amazon, Target, or Walmart. They may also ask you to purchase a certain gift card such as eBay, Google Play or iTunes.
These are just a few of the many ways scammers can try to convince you to give them your money. If anything seems out of the blue or suspicious, it’s probably a scam!
What to do if you’re being scammed
Do not respond to anything you think could be a scam, even if you’re unsure. If you already paid a scammer with a gift card, tell the merchant that issued you the card right away. Check the retailer’s website for resources on reporting scams as well. If the card issuer is hard to reach or is unable to help, report it to the FTC. Even if you didn’t actually pay the scammer, it’s a good idea to report it anyway to prevent this type of scam from happening to anyone else.
At First Financial, we are here to help protect our members from scams and identity theft. If you have any concerns or questions about any of your First Financial accounts, please call member services at 732.312.1500 or visit one of our branches.