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Important Message

Keep Imposter Scammers Off Your Gift-Giving List

As you head into the 2018 holiday shopping season, here’s what you need to know about imposter scams involving gift cards.

We recently shared about phone scams that are linked to complex email fraud schemes. As we head into the holiday season, we want you to be aware of another type of cyber threat: imposter scams. We've gathered information about some of the methods con artists use to persuade victims to send them money. If you recognize the tactics being used, you can dodge scammers who prey on your helpfulness, goodwill, and spirit of giving—specifically in the form of gift cards, which may already be on your holiday shopping list. 

Gift Card Scams

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), gift card and reload gift cards have become the number one form of payment for imposter scams. Imposter scammers are sophisticated actors who impersonate friends and family members or pose as familiar businesses or government agencies. As with similar types of scams, the actors set a tone of urgency. Attacks may come by email or phone calls.

Gift cards are the payment method of choice because scammers can easily access the cash and keep their identity hidden, and the transactions are rarely reversed. The scammers are prepared with reasons to explain why purchasing and sending the gift card numbers is the fastest, best way to resolve the crisis. Crime reports detail how effective scammers are at convincing victims they are a friend or relative in trouble, or that they are representing a legitimate person or cause. People who are persuaded to follow instructions and send money believe they are helping someone, fixing a problem, or keeping themselves out of trouble. 

Signs of Gift Card Scams

There are tell-tale signs to help you identify this type of scam.

  • Victims are told to purchase the gift cards at big stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Walgreens, among others.
  • Scammers may ask for a specific card type, but iTunes gift cards have been the preferred card brand since 2016.
  • They tell the victims to scratch off the strip on the back of the card and call or email back with the gift card numbers.

Scammers employ a variety of tactics to convince you: They could impersonate your boss, who you may have asked you to purchase gift cards in the past. Maybe they claim to be a representative from the IRS or another agency seeking payment for fines. They may pose as a friend of a loved one who has been arrested and needs help with bail.

Whatever approach the scammers use to bait you, the most important takeaway is: If someone is urgently demanding gift cards, it's likely a scam. The best response is to hang up or block the email sender. If you're concerned someone you know may really be in trouble, check on them with a call or text. If it's a business or professional contact, follow up using a trusted phone number or email address to find out if they're truly attempting to contact you. Never respond to a suspicious email to find out if it's authentic. Peace and joy are more likely to find you this season if you don't get snared by an imposter scam.