What is a gift card scam?
A gift card scam is when someone illegitimately uses someone else’s gift card. As a result, victims usually lose all the money on the card.
Usually criminals perform gift card frauds by obtaining gift card numbers from their victims, but sometimes they use much more sophisticated techniques to trick their targets.
How do gift card scams work?
Each gift card is a bit similar to your bank card — you can put money on it, and it has a unique number you can use to redeem it. Scammers only need to obtain that number and make sure there is money on the card. Then they can use this number to drain it.
5 most common gift card scams in 2022
While there are many methods to snatch a gift card’s contents, here are the most frequent ones:
Gift card stealing bots
Gift card scammers have started using bots (GiftGhostBot being one of the most popular options) to speed up and automatize the process. Bots crawl retailers’ gift card systems and look for activated gift cards. Once they find such cards, criminals immediately retrieve their numbers and use them to purchase something or sell them on the dark web.
Impostors from institutions
Scammers also masquerade as representatives of governmental or tax agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service. They convince the victim that they failed to pay certain taxes or show up in court and now must pay a fine or bail to avoid arrest. And, of course, they mention that the victim can pay using gift cards. Once the victim tells them the number of their gift card, they immediately drain it and disappear.
One of the most straightforward methods of such a scam is simply writing down the card number in the shop selling it. Once someone buys and tops up the card, the scammer immediately uses it. Of course, the buyer can identify such a fraud by a tampered package, but usually scammers manage to seal it without making it look suspicious.
Fake activation websites
With most gift cards, you need to enter your card number on a website to activate it or top it up. So, scammers create fake websites that look identical to the original one, tricking people into entering their card numbers and simply collecting them.
A scammer sends you an email informing you that you won something. But, to retrieve the prize, you need to activate your gift card and pay some retrieval fees. Of course, it is all fake — in the end, you just end up giving your gift card to a scammer.
How to protect yourself from gift card scams
Here are a few methods to minimize the risks of gift card scams:
- No institution or company asks their customer to pay for something with their gift cards. So, if you hear such a request, it’s a serious red flag and you should immediately terminate the communication;
- Try to use up your gift cards as soon as you can to avoid becoming a victim of gift card snatching bots;
- Always double-check the website where you enter your gift card number. Make sure the URL doesn’t look suspicious and look for other signs implicating that the website could be fake;
- Don’t give away your gift card number to anybody;
- Only purchase gift cards from official sellers;
- In case you’ve become a victim of a fraud, immediately contact the original card issuer or even the cyber police for further actions.
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