What You Need to Know About Gift Card Scams

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.

How to Avoid Holiday Season Gift Card Scams

It’s the time of year where many scams are prevalent, however lately – gift card scams seem to be popping up and affecting consumers more and more this holiday season. Continue reading to find out how to protect yourself and your finances from this type of fraudulent transaction.

If you ever receive a call, email, or text from someone asking to be paid via a gift card or to buy something by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card – they are attempting to scam you. Before you read any further, know that a legitimate business or government agency will never ask to collect payment via gift card.

Why do fraudsters attempt to collect payment in the form of gift cards? Because they are easy to get, and there are virtually no buyer protections. In other words, it’s basically like using cash. And when the money on the gift card is gone, it’s gone.

How does a gift card scam work?

  • You’ll get a call, email, or text letting you know you’ll need to pay as soon as possible, and that the only way to do so and help is to buy a gift card.
  • The requestor will almost always tell you exactly which gift card to purchase – typically eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes, and so forth. You might even be asked to purchase the gift card at a specific store, such as Target, Walmart, CVS, or Walgreens. The scammer may ask you to purchase various gift cards at different stores too (this is so the cashier won’t be suspicious).
  • Once purchased, you’ll be asked for the gift card number and PIN. These two items will give the scammer access to all the funds that were loaded onto the card, and once they have that – the money is theirs and they can use it immediately with no way for you to get it back.

If you are thinking the steps listed above are pretty obvious and how could someone actually fall for this type of scam – keep reading.

How scammers convince consumers to purchase gift cards and get away with it:

  • The caller states they are from the government, such as the IRS or Social Security Administration. They’ll tell you that you owe taxes or need to pay a fine, and the only way to do so is with a gift card.
  • The caller says they are with Apple or Microsoft tech support, and that there is something wrong with your device. They’ll also tell you that in order to fix it, you’ll need to go out and purchase a specific related gift card.
  • Online dating sites are another hangout for gift card scammers. If you meet and chat with someone via a dating site or app, and then after they build a connection with you – they tell you they need help and the only way to do so is with a gift card.
  • The scammer spoofs the phone number of a family member or friend close to you, and tells you they’re in trouble and that the only way to help them is to go out and purchase a gift card. If this happens to you, hang up and actually call your relative or friend on your own and ask if they truly need help.
  • You are contacted that you won a prize, however in order to redeem it – you need to pay contest fees with a gift card. This will never happen with a legitimate contest, and – did you ever enter one to begin with?
  • You get a call from your “utility company” threatening to cut off your service unless you pay them with a gift card.
  • Someone contacts you and says you will receive a check in the mail – however it ends up being more than you were told you would be getting. The sender contacts you again and tells you to deposit the check into your bank account, and give them the difference on a gift card. There are two problems here – the gift card payment, and also the check being deposited is typically fake and you may be held liable for that amount by your bank as well.

Here are a few ways to ensure gift cards are used properly and legitimately:

  • Remember that gift cards are for gifts. You should never use a gift card to pay someone.
  • Purchase gift cards at stores you know and trust – don’t buy them online or through a gift card auction site, as they may be fake or stolen.
  • Look the gift card over before you purchase it. Ensure there are protective stickers that have not been tampered with, and make sure the PIN on the back isn’t visible.
  • Keep your receipt after your gift card purchase. This will prove that money was loaded onto the card if you ever need it, as well as the gift card’s ID number will be listed. If you ever lose the gift card, you’ll be able to file a report to close that particular card.

The moral of the story: This holiday season (and any time), be mindful of those who might be trying to scam you into purchasing gift cards. Always remember, legitimate organizations will never ask to be paid in this manner.

THINK First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!


Article Source: ftc.gov

How to Avoid Gift Card Fraud This Holiday Season

gift cardGift cards will be the most requested gift this holiday season for the eighth consecutive year, the National Retail Federation reports. Unfortunately, this also creates an opportunity for fraudsters who want a piece of an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Just ask James Bregenzer, 32, of Chicago, who purchased a $500 airline gift card as a Christmas gift a few years ago for his mother – who was planning a trip to Disney World. After he brought the gift card home from the grocery store where he purchased it, he noticed the PIN area on the back of the card was scratched off, so he called the airline. “I asked if there was any way they could exchange my gift card for a new one, use it to purchase a new one or otherwise protect my purchase with the potentially compromised PIN,” he said.

The airline said there was nothing it could do for him and suggested he use the gift card immediately while it still had its $500 value, but his mother didn’t know her travel dates yet, and he wanted to save the gift for Christmas. Sure enough, when she tried using the card just a week later, it had a zero balance.

Watch Out When Buying or Redeeming

Gift card fraud can happen when a gift card is purchased or redeemed, according to Pete Kledaras, chief risk officer at CashStar, a gift card platform that works with hundreds of major retail brands. Thieves can purchase a physical or digital gift card using a stolen credit card or simply steal the gift card number and PIN and leave the physical gift card. In the latter case, thieves will typically use the balance themselves. “Once cards are stolen, there are any number of ways that thieves can turn that into money for themselves,” Kledaras says. “They can re-sell them, or they can go into the store and purchase physical goods that they can sell.”

Another example of gift card fraud is when a thief tries to return stolen merchandise, and the retailer issues a gift card as a refund. “The criminal is getting $75 cash back from an item that they never purchased in the first place,” says National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis. Then the schemer might turn around and sell that gift card for cash.

To make sure you don’t become a victim of gift card fraud this season, follow these tips:

For the Giver

  • Only buy from trusted sources. Gift card resale markets offer gift cards for less than the face value of the card, but not all of them guarantee the stated value. For example, if the original purchaser still has the gift card and PIN, he or she may be able to use the gift card online even after selling it. Or, if the retailer discovers the gift card was purchased using a stolen credit card, it can cancel the gift card. To avoid these potential issues, Kledaras recommends buying directly from the retailer issuing the gift card. “If you want to buy a Best Buy gift card, it’s best to buy it from Best Buy,” he says.
  • Watch for signs of tampering. In the past, Grannis says thieves would walk into stores and write down the numbers of the gift cards on display. “Since that was first discovered, large retailers have taken steps to remove any opportunity for criminals,” Grannis states. If a card is not in plastic casing, make sure the PIN hasn’t been scratched off. Digital gift cards are also becoming increasingly popular and don’t have potential for physical tampering.

For the Recipient

  • Register your gift card. Some retailers, including Crate and Barrel and Starbucks, allow gift card holders to register their gift cards and protect the balance in case the card is ever lost or stolen. Not all merchants have this option, but if yours does, it’s a good idea to register the card just in case.
  • Treat gift cards like cash. Many states prohibit gift cards with expiration dates, but it’s still a good idea for the recipient to use the card sooner rather than later. This helps not only to prevent fraud, but also to avoid losing or forgetting the gift card. “It’s like having cash sitting on a table,” Kledaras says, “and you want to use it before something happens to it.” In fact, advisory company CEB estimates that over a billion dollars in gift cards were unredeemed in 2013. So it’s better to get the value out of the gift card now than later, when the retailer may be out of business or you misplace the gift card.

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*If the gift card is inactive for 360 days, an inactivity fee of $2.50 per month will be charged to the card – starting from the date of activation. If the card is lost or stolen, the replacement fee is $15.00.** 5 currency envelopes limit per person, or purchase 10 currency envelopes for $2.

Article Source: Susan Johnston of The Daily Finance, http://www.dailyfinance.com/2014/11/19/how-to-avoid-gift-card-fraud-this-holiday-season/