Gift Card Scams

Most of us love to buy gift cards for convenience because they work the same as a debit card, and you can buy them from just about any store or restaurant.

While credit card fraud and other forms of identity theft tend to be the most popular form of fraud, gift card scams occasionally happen too. The only positive thing about gift card scams is the fraud is typically locked into just the amount on the gift card itself. Fraud is fraud, no matter the amount. Scammers like this easy fraud because gift cards spend just like cash once they have the card number and PIN. For you and me, it is hard to get our money back or reverse any purchases made on the gift card.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the most popular gift cards targeted include; iTunes, Google Play Gift Card, Walmart, and Amazon gift card.  There are many different types of gift card scams, and the scammers can be pretty convincing. Here are a few of the most common scams and how you can recognize them.

Gift Card Scams that Insist You Must Pay

Scam artists may call impersonating the IRS or other government agency threatening that you owe money and could be arrested if you do not pay with a gift card today. Or a similar scam is when they impersonate law enforcement and state that you failed to show for a mandated court appearance, and a warrant is out for your arrest. To avoid going to jail, you can pay a fine using a prepaid MoneyPak Card or debit card to clear the warrant and fines.  For many unsuspecting a scam, the victim will purchase gift cards or buy a prepaid debit card and give the scammers the card number and PIN number. The scammer then uses the funds on the gift cards, and the money and card balances are gone just as quickly as it was loaded to the card.

Other Types of Gift Card Fraud

What would you do if a window pops up in your browser claiming to give you a $100 Walmart gift coupon once you filled out the application form? Go or No Go? More often than not, it is a scam. Recently we have observed a spike in the number of such pages captured by our AI engine. Our advice to the users would be to stay away from them. These scams can be carried out in the following ways:

Survey Gift Card Scams

You get an email or a text message from your friend with a link embedded in it. The message reads - 'An awesome opportunity to win a $200 Target gift card. Try your luck before the offer runs out'. It is probably a message that was forwarded to them. They ask you to fill a survey that will ask you for your personal details, including your name, social security number, email address, phone number, physical address, and even driver’s license number. After you fill the form, you will be redirected to a page that will ask you to forward this message to 10 other people before you can claim your winnings. It is a never-ending process, and you will never receive the coupon you were looking for. You might wonder why  they were asking for so many details if they never intended to give you a coupon. It could be one of the following reasons:

  • They collect user data and sell it for money
  • They can use your personal contact details to try and scam you
  • Thieves could download a virus onto your machine once you click the submit button

How to avoid these survey scams

Do not open links that claim to be offering coupons unless they belong to the original vendor or retailer. For example, if you get a message that reads 'Walmart discount coupon' from https[.]/www[.]walmtar[.]com, it means that the coupon is hosted on a domain named 'walmtar' which is not associated with Walmart.

If you accidentally open the web page, close the window. If you see a pop-up window, close the window without clicking anywhere else on it. Any clicks on the window will generate more pop-ups and might download malware onto your computer. We suggest you use pop-up ad blockers.

If you see a survey, verify the legitimacy of the page. You could do that by checking the domain or by going online and using You can submit the URL you received in the scan box and get a verdict in real-time. We will let you know whether a link is a phish (unoriginal/ scam) or clean(safe).

Play a Game Gift Card Scams

Recently, we are observing a spike in the number of these scams. The scammer sends you a link, asks you to play a game and share the page with your friends to receive the reward. These types of scams are similar to the survey scams. They are mostly click bait and might not ask you for your personal information.

Cold Calling Gift Card Scams

Sometimes, you might receive a call saying you won a $100 gift card and claim it after answering a few questions. These questions will be personal, and the scammer will try to extract as much information from you as possible. They try to convince you that the offer is real. They are trained to make you believe. Do not reveal any personal or payment details. They might ask you to answer the following:

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Age
  • Credit/ debit card information

Tips to Protect Yourself from Gift Card Scams

Remember, a government agency or any other reputable company will not ask you to buy gift cards to make a payment either by phone or email.

Check your gift card balance by calling the card issuer in private. If a caller asks to have a three-way call so they can verify your gift card balance – hang up.

Always buy gift cards from the retailer or a reputable gift card reseller.

When you are in doubt of a website and need to check to see if it is a phishing or safe site, check it through CheckPhish first.

Abhilash Garimella

Abhilash Garimella