Why Do Scammers Ask for Gift Cards?

In a world where fraud and scams lurk around every dark corner of the internet, it is now more important than ever before to proceed with caution and take steps to protect yourself against falling victim to online threats. As the technology we use becomes more innovative and advanced, the techniques that scammers use will adapt and evolve as well to fit into the world around them. 

While scams from two hundred years ago may have consisted of being unknowingly robbed by one individual while another serves to distract you, modern day scams can happen in the comfort of your own house, a place where you typically feel safe and allow your guard to drop. Household scams have become commonplace since the rise of telecommunications, and now that pretty much everyone is the owner of a cell phone these scammers have even more potential victims to prey on. Every unknown number that calls you could have a scammer on the other end, and that’s just scary. 

Scams also come by way of email with fraudulent marketing messages that appear convincing. It is important to be cautious when interacting with suspicious emails from addresses you do not recognize and refrain from entering personal information. It would only take a few clicks to send sensitive data to scammers looking to get their hands on your personal details. 

Scammers aren’t always interested in getting your personal information, though. While stealing bank account numbers and identity theft are definitely things worth worrying about when it comes to getting scammed, there are a lot of gift card scams happening to consumers all around the world. People are getting their money taken right from underneath their noses and you could very well be next. In the first half of 2023 alone, American consumers have lost nearly ten million dollars to gift card scams. That is no small amount of cash. 

If you want to learn how to protect yourself and avoid falling victim to gift card scams, keep reading to learn how these types of scams operate so you know what to expect.  

How Do These Gift Card Scams Work?

Scams come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes – protect yourself against fraud by knowing what gift card scams look like. 

Perhaps you aren’t even sure what a gift card scam looks like. Most often, these scams start with a phone call made to you. The individual on the other end of the call claims to be an authority figure such as a representative from the IRS, an insurance agent, or a tech support worker in order to compel you to act. You will be requested to make payments using gift cards in every single one of these scenarios, usually for popular brands like Amazon, Target, Walmart, Apple, or Google Play. They may also ask you to go to a large department store to buy several gift cards. You should be quite suspicious if an unidentified caller attempts to stay on the phone with you while you go to the store, as that is a telling sign that the call is fraudulent. 

Once you either purchase the gift cards at a store or online, the person calling you will want the gift card details. If scammers are given information like the gift card number and the PIN they will have immediate access to the funds on the gift card, leaving you with no money and useless cards. 

There are also scenarios where scammers enter stores that sell gift cards, record the gift card codes, and then wait until the card is bought and activated to use the funds. Beyond activation, there are usually no protections in place for gift card buyers and the funds on the gift card can be used by anyone with access to the codes. Though the simplicity of gift cards is certainly convenient, it can also be a drawback due to its lack of security. In order to avoid purchasing a gift card that has fallen into the web of a scam, always check the gift card packaging for evidence of tampering and alert store employees of anything suspicious you notice. 

Scams are performed every day on unsuspecting folks who are tricked into believing a lie. It is important to be aware of the types of scams that are currently happening and know what types of signs to look out for to best protect yourself. 

What Makes Gift Cards so Special to Scammers?

Gift card scams are extremely popular nowadays, but why is that? What could scammers possibly get out of stealing gift cards from other people? Well, unfortunately, there are many reasons why scammers want gift cards for their own purposes, including:

  • Gift cards may be treated like cash. As long as you are shopping at a store your gift card will work at, you will be able to use your gift card funds to make purchases. A scammer can use your gift card as cash once they are given access to the card numbers and PIN. Certain gift cards, like Visa or Mastercard prepaid gift cards, function exactly like cash and may be used at a variety of businesses.
  • Gift cards cannot often be traced, disputed, or refunded once a purchase is made. When it comes to successfully scamming others, it is important that you are able to get away with it. Gift cards create the perfect opportunity for scammers looking to make a quick buck. It is difficult for anyone to trace gift card activity, and once the gift card funds are spent, there may not be a way to get the balance refunded onto your card. Scammers have little to worry about when they make fraudulent gift card purchases.
  • Gift cards are not tied to any specific individual or account. There is very little personal protection offered by way of gift cards. Most gift cards do not need to be registered to any one person or account before their funds can be used – they only need to be activated by a cashier or manually by the gift card recipient. This lack of security is beneficial to scammers, since there is no way to track or identify suspicious activity through gift cards. If someone has the gift card number and the PIN, then they are at liberty to use your gift card funds to make purchases. 
  • Gift cards are widely sold and easy to purchase. You see gift cards at checkout lanes in supermarkets, department stores, drug stores, and even neighborhood convenience stores. No matter where you go, gift cards are quite common and you’ll have little trouble getting your hands on ones that interest you. Because of how easy it is to obtain gift cards and their prominent retail popularity, scammers do not have to worry about seeming suspicious when looking at gift cards in stores. It is also pretty much guaranteed that the gift cards scammers acquire information from will be purchased by other shoppers in the near future, enabling them to successfully steal funds once the cards are activated. 
  • Gift cards can be easily sold online by scammers. The entire point of running a scam is to get money from others, and the most direct way a gift card scammer can accomplish that is by reselling the gift cards at online merchants. There are plenty of online marketplaces for gift card resales that offer direct payments for unused or partially used gift cards. While these websites are legit, scammers may take advantage of them in order to procure payment. 

Common Gift Card Scams

Always be alert to the threat of scams and keep an eye out for suspicious behavior and common fraud tactics. 

1. Gift cards that are empty before you purchase them

Walking into a store to buy gift cards and coming out with cards suddenly depleted of their new value is an unfortunate circumstance that can happen to anyone. Scammers may copy the gift card numbers from inside of stores, replace the silver stickers protecting the security code, and deposit the gift card funds once the card is activated. You’re none the wiser to it, and you only find out when you go to use your gift card and your payment is declined. 

If you are ever shopping for gift cards, you can protect yourself from falling for a gift card scam by checking the packaging for damage or tampering. If the gift card is able to be registered to an account, you can take advantage of that feature for an extra dose of security. 

2. Scammers on dating apps and websites asking for gift cards 

Lots of folks get swept up into romantic fantasies when scrolling through dating profiles of dreamy people. If an impulsive message turns into something more, you might be inclined to do a variety of stupid things simply because you aren’t thinking rationally. 

Scammers love to create fake profiles on dating websites, quickly build relationships with victims, and trick you into giving them gift card information because they claim to need it for funds to see you or help with an emergency. The victim is often manipulated in these situations by elaborate fake stories that elicit emotional reactions from them. 

Though rose-tinted glasses can make what’s right in front of you hard to see, it is best you avoid sending money or gift cards to anyone you only know online. It’s also a smart move to insist on meeting in person somewhere public so you know who you’re really talking to. If you encounter a profile that you know is fraudulent, make sure that you report it to the website or app.  

3. Fraudulent giveaways asking for gift cards to release winnings

There are scammers who pose as fake or legitimate organizations to trick people into thinking they won some sort of lottery. The callers will present some sort of prize like cash, a car, a computer, or another item of value and tell you that you must pay a tax or fee before you can collect your prize. 

If you are ever the winner of a legitimate lottery, know that you will never have to pay to receive your winnings. You should also never fall for paying more because you believe it will help you win. Real sweepstakes are free to enter and the winners are randomly chosen, so paying more won’t ever help you. 

4. Discount gift cards available on various websites 

Independent online marketplaces can find you in a sea of great deals and horrible scams. Scammers operating on sites like eBay or Facebook attempt to attract buyers by posting great deals on gift card sales that are often way too good to be true. If you notice red flags but are attracted because of the price, take a moment to think about the likely possibility that it is a scam. 

5. A friend asking you for gift cards

A recent scam phenomenon has been occurring on social media websites and email accounts where fraudsters will hack into an account of a friend of yours, pose as them, and ask for gift cards to help them with an urgent situation. While you may certainly be inclined to help your friend, you must make sure that you know exactly who is sending you messages. Contact your friend through another method and verify if it was them actually asking you for money. 

It helps to be wary of suspicious behavior when reading messages and emails you get online. If you notice a friend is communicating in a strange way or there are spelling mistakes that are usually not present, then you can safely assume a scammer is trying to get the better of you. 

The prospect of a scam can be scary, but you do not have to worry too much when you take the steps necessary to protect sensitive information. 

The best way you can avoid falling victim to gift card scams is by playing it safe and using your brain. If you encounter a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or you are unsure of someone’s intentions, it is best to simply pause the interaction and report anything you can to wherever appropriate. You don’t have to worry about falling for scams when you know what to watch for!