Gift cards can be a particularly popular gift this holiday season, thanks to a global supply chain disaster that makes it difficult to obtain electronics and other items, but they are also a vehicle for predilection for crooks.
There have been approximately 35,000 reports of gift or recharge card fraud in the first half of 2021, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). (A recharge card is like a prepaid debit card that you can add money to for your purchases.)
This year is turning out to be the worst year for gift card scams, said Scam Spotter, a cybersecurity platform launched by Google and the nonprofit Cybercrime Support Network, in a recent release from hurry. Last year, the FTC reported that gift cards were one of the leading fraudulent payment methods every year since 2018, with nearly 44,000 reports of gift card and recharge fraud in 2020.
What does a gift card scam look like? A common method is for a scammer to contact you, urgently ask for money, and ask you to pay with gift cards. Maybe they’re saying your parent is in jail, you’ve been pre-approved for a loan, or you owe the government money.
Then they’ll tell you which store you “need” to get the gift card from, like Best Buy or Target, and sometimes stay on the phone while you buy the card so you don’t have time to go. think twice.
Gift cards are a good method for scammers because the cards can’t be found, and once the scammer has the payment details, that money is gone for good.
These programs are most effective when people are fearful and emotionally vulnerable, Emma Fletcher, a program analyst with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) previously told Money. The pandemic has been a big opportunity for criminals, with promises of bogus COVID-19 treatments and bogus government information on stimulus checks and more.
How to protect yourself from a gift card scam
If someone asks you to pay for something with a gift card, it is probably a scam. Don’t be fooled by a seemingly compelling excuse, like the fact that you owe money or someone you love needs your help. And remember: government agencies like the IRS will never call you and ask for immediate payment.
But if you fall for a gift card scam, act as soon as you realize the problem. Contact the store where you purchased the gift card or the card issuer as soon as possible. The FTC has a list of contact information for popular gift card companies like Amazon and iTunes.
The faster you report, the better the chances of getting at least some of your money back.
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