Gift cards are trendy—to give as well as to get. Using one is a convenient way to treat someone to dinner at their favorite restaurant, to purchase at their favorite store, or to give them cash. Unfortunately, scammers also love gift cards and have come up with creative ways to convince you to purchase cards for them.

In 2021, consumers reported over $148 million lost to gift card scammers. Consumers have reported being contacted by the IRS, Social Security, and power companies and told they owed penalties. Others say Amazon or Apple got them to pay to continue service. Some say they were contacted by law enforcement and told to pay a fee to avoid a warrant. The reasons are endless.

In most cases, the scammer attempts to scare or alarm you, claiming that something terrible will happen if you don’t pay them immediately. They want you to act quickly so you don’t have time to think it through or check the issue further. You are told payment must be made using a gift card instead of a check or online payment, and you don’t need to mail the card; simply tell them the serial and personal identification numbers on the back.

Here are a few more scenarios gift card scammers use:

Relative in distress

You receive a call from someone claiming to be a loved one, usually a grandchild. They tell you they have had an accident or are stuck in a foreign country, unable to get home. They ask you to send money immediately using a gift or a prepaid card.

Clergy members

They claim they are raising money for a worthy cause. They contact you by phone, text, or email, ask you to purchase gift cards, and give them the numbers.

Resale or auction sites

Once you have shown interest in an item, the scammer will offer a discount if you buy it with a gift card. You give them the number and never get the item you purchased.

Tip: Be suspicious if a government agency, legitimate company, or loved one asks you to pay them with a gift card. If you’re unsure, contact the agency or company using their official website, not a number provided in the questionable message. If someone claims to be a relative, contact the immediate family and ask them to verify that a payment is needed.

Like cash, getting the money back is difficult once a gift card is given to someone. You are not protected from fraud like you are with major credit cards. 

What to do if you gave a gift card to a scammer

If you bought a gift card and gave someone the numbers off the back of the card, that’s a scam. Use your gift card and gift card store receipt for these next steps:

  • Report the gift card scam to the gift card company right away. No matter how long ago the scam happened, report it. Use the How To Contact Gift Card Companies list below.
  • Ask for your money back. Some companies are helping stop gift card scams and might give your money back. It’s worth asking.
  • Tell the FTC at Every report makes a difference.

Be safe and enjoy this holiday season!

Want to know more? Read additional Mid Oregon blog articles about online security and fraud protection.

As a reminder, Mid Oregon will never initiate a call asking for personal or account information via phone, text, or email.