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How To Identify (and Avoid) Apple Gift Card Scams

Did someone request payment with Apple gift cards? It’s most likely a scam. Learn the latest Apple gift card scams and what to do if you’ve been targeted.

Illustration of an Apple gift card with an image of a deteriorating apple on it to symbolize an Apple gift card scam

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      Is Someone Asking You for Apple Gift Cards? It Could Be a Scam

      Gift card scams have skyrocketed in recent years due to the fact that gift cards are easy to acquire, come from trusted brands, and are nearly impossible to trace, refund, or recover. More and more scammers are asking for Apple gift cards — with victims paying the price.

      According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]:

      Americans lost nearly $110 million to gift card scams in the first half of 2023 alone.

      The simple truth is: Legitimate companies never demand payment in the form of Apple gift cards, yet scammers are finding more sophisticated ways to trick victims into handing them over. 

      In this guide, we’ll explain what Apple gift card scams are, the latest scams to watch out for, and what to do if you’ve fallen victim.

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      What Is the Apple Gift Card Scam? How Does It Work?

      Apple gift card scams involve a range of different schemes — from phishing emails to imposter scams — in which fraudsters trick victims into sending them Apple gift cards (or their associated numbers and PINs). 

      Scammers pose as bank employees, customer service representatives, and even government agents from the IRS or FBI, and demand payment for fees, fines, taxes, or to “protect” your bank account. 

      Nearly one in three Americans has been targeted by a gift card scam, with many victims losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars [*].

      Yet, while gift card scams come in numerous forms, they all typically follow a similar pattern: 

      • First, scammers contact you pretending to represent a business or agency that you trust. Many gift card scams happen over the phone, via text messages, or in emails. Scammers impersonate companies or organizations you know – such as Amazon or the IRS – in order to build your trust.
      • Next, they create an urgent or stressful situation. Scammers use scare tactics to instill panic so that you act quickly without thinking. They may say a friend or family member is in trouble, claim you haven’t paid your utility bills, or threaten you with financial or legal consequences if you don’t comply.
      • To get out of trouble, you’re told to buy Apple Store, Apple Music, or iTunes gift cards. The fraudster requests that you purchase a gift card for the Apple Store, App Store, or iTunes Store either online or from the nearest retailer. In order to pay, you’re asked to share the code on the back of the card along with the PIN (if any) that you set up during activation.
      • Once you share the gift card numbers and PINs, the scammer empties the balance. The funds loaded on the gift card are drained before you have a chance to contact Apple or law enforcement. By the time you realize you’ve been the victim of a gift card scam, the fraudster is gone and you’re out all of the money.

      The bottom line: If you’re told to pay with Apple gift cards (or Walmart, eBay, Microsoft, or any other type of gift card), it’s a scam. Legitimate companies never demand payment via gift cards. The moment someone asks for a gift card payment, hang up or delete the email.

      The 7 Latest Apple Gift Card Scams (and How To Avoid Them)

      Gift card scammers are always adapting their strategies to trick you into paying them. Here are some of the latest Apple gift card scams — and how you can protect yourself against them.

      1. Hacked or spoofed friends and family members asking for gift cards

      One of the latest — and most nefarious — Apple gift card scams involves hackers using compromised email or social media accounts to impersonate their victims’ friends, family, and contacts. Fraudsters reach out to you and claim to be in trouble or ask you to purchase Apple gift cards for them (for which they promise to pay you back later). 

      How to spot and avoid this Apple gift card scam:

      • Check in with contacts via a different method. As soon as someone asks for a gift card – even a supposed friend or family member – consider it a red flag. Make sure you speak to the person directly, either over the phone or in person, before moving forward.
      • Look for strange language, phrasing, or grammar. If they’re interacting with you in a way that’s inconsistent with their usual style of communication, it’s probably a scammer.
      • Keep your own accounts secure. To ensure that hackers can’t target your contacts, use strong passwords, enable two-factor authentication (2FA), and monitor your sensitive accounts for hacking and signs of fraud.
      🥇 Keep hackers out of your online accounts with award-winning security. Aura combines AI-powered digital security with #1-rated identity theft protection, credit monitoring, 24/7 support, a $1 million insurance policy for every adult on your plan, and more. Try Aura for free today.

      2. Imposters demanding gift card payments over the phone

      Scammers often pose as agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), utility companies, or even debt collectors to pressure you into sending them Apple gift cards. 

      How to spot and avoid this Apple gift card scam:

      • The caller claims to be from a government agency – but called you first. It’s not common for a legitimate government agency to call you out of the blue. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be a government representative, simply hang up and call the agency back using its official phone number.
      • The caller doesn’t know any details about you or your account. Remember, they called you. If the caller can’t provide specifics about why you owe money or the account number under which the payment is due, it’s a scammer.
      • They refuse to accept other forms of payment. Real organizations will accept traditional payment methods (like credit cards or bank transfers).

      💡 Related: How To Block Spam and Scam Calls (Android, iOS, and Landlines)

      3. Physical gift cards that were tampered with or already have empty balances

      While most Apple gift card scams occur online or over the phone, you can even become a victim when purchasing gift cards in stores. According to AARP [*]:

      26% of people have received or given away a gift card that has a zero balance.

      One common tactic involves scammers applying fake barcodes to the backs of store gift cards. When you activate them, the money goes to the scammer’s gift card instead of yours.

      How to spot and avoid this Apple gift card scam:

      • Keep receipts for purchased gift cards. If you ever need to make a dispute, your receipt acts as proof that you were the one who purchased the card.
      • Look for signs of tampering. Make sure the card numbers and PIN haven’t been scratched off already and that the barcode is real (not a sticker affixed on top).

      4. Romance scammers requesting Apple gift cards

      These scams start with a fake persona contacting you on social media or a dating site, seeking to start a relationship. First, to earn your trust, they gather and use information you’ve shared online about yourself.

      Once they’ve built a connection with you, the fraudster asks you for Apple gift cards to help get out of a fake emergency, hoping your feelings of affection and concern will prompt you to comply.

      How to spot and avoid this Apple gift card scam:

      • Learn to recognize the signs of an online romance scammer. Profiles with few details or magazine-quality photos are signals that the person is made up. Romance scammers often come off very strong, while refusing to video chat or meet up in person. All of these are red flags.
      • Don’t send gift cards (or money) to someone you’ve never met. If someone you’re talking to online demands that you send them gift cards or other forms of currency, that’s a telltale sign you’re dealing with a scammer.

      💡 Related: How To Spot a Scammer On a Dating Site (9 Warning Signs)

      5. Giveaway scams asking for gift cards to pay “fees”

      One of the more common Apple gift card scams involve fake giveaways or sweepstakes. For example, fraudsters may send emails or text messages claiming you’ve won a new iPhone 15 — but in order to claim your prize, you need to send Apple gift cards to cover shipping costs or other fees. 

      How to spot and avoid this Apple gift card scam:

      • Consider whether the prize is too good to be true. If you didn’t enter the giveaway, or the prize seems too generous, it’s most likely a scam. Companies won’t contact you out of the blue to award you a free iPhone 15 (or similar prize). 
      • Never pay to win or claim prizes. Paying upfront for fees, taxes, or other costs to claim a prize is a clear red flag of a scam. 

      6. Refund scams asking for Apple gift cards to cover overpayments

      In this scam, you receive a text or email claiming to be from your bank informing you of a fraudulent purchase — along with a number to call to cancel the transaction. But when you call, a scammer posing as a customer service representative “accidentally” sends you back too much money.

      To refund the company, they instruct you to buy gift cards for the amount owed.

      How to spot and avoid this Apple gift card scam:

      • Don’t pay companies via gift cards. There’s never a good reason to pay with gift cards when you can use an alternate method like debit or credit cards — which have purchase protections in place.
      • Listen to your gut. Customer service representatives usually don’t make the mistake of sending too much money. In the event that they do, they have processes in place for rectifying the issue (which don’t involve gift cards). If you’re being pressured or threatened to send a refund, just hang up.
      • Never download AnyDesk or other similar apps. Fraudsters may ask you to download “remote desktop” apps such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer. But this gives them access to your computer and allows them to manipulate your screen, making the “overpayment” look legitimate.

      💡 Related: Don’t Fall For These 7 Nasty Refund & Recovery Scams

      7. Scammers pretending to be your boss requesting gift cards

      This is a scam designed to play on your desire to impress your superiors at work or stay in their good graces. Fraudsters pose as your boss, CEO, or manager and send you an urgent request asking you to purchase Apple gift cards for a client or investor with the promise of later reimbursement. If you ask to call them, they tell you that they’re in a meeting and can’t be disturbed. 

      How to spot and avoid this Apple gift card scam:

      • Contact your boss by using an alternate contact method. Reach out to your supervisor by using a known email address or phone number – don’t reply to the email directly to ask for confirmation of the request.
      • Talk to a trusted co-worker. If you have doubts, it’s a good idea to reach out to a trusted co-worker for advice before taking any kind of action.
      • Don’t use your personal funds to make company purchases. Your employer shouldn’t ask you to front large purchases with the promise of reimbursement. If you don’t have a company card or another legitimate way to pay for work-related expenses, you’re likely dealing with a scammer.
      🚫 Block spam and scam texts by using Aura’s AI-powered Call Assistant. Aura uses advanced technology to identify and block scam calls and texts before they reach you. Learn more about how Aura protects you from scams.

      Did You Send Scammers Apple Gift Cards? Do This!

      The bad news is that if you’ve sent a scammer Apple Store gift cards, that money is most likely gone. However, the good news is that falling for an Apple gift card scam doesn’t automatically put you at risk of other forms of identity theft and fraud — unless you also provided personal details, financial information, or access to your iCloud account

      Here’s what to do if you’ve fallen victim to an Apple gift card scam:

      • Contact Apple. Contact Apple Support online if you gave gift card information to a scammer. Alternatively, if you’re in the United States, you can call Apple at 800-275-2273 and say “gift cards” when prompted. The sooner you reach out, the sooner they can put a freeze on the gift card to protect whatever funds are left.
      • Make reports to the FTC and your local police department. Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Reporting to your local police is also sometimes a necessary step to help recover your funds.
      • Report the scam to your state’s attorney general. State attorney generals often investigate larger fraud cases and may be able to provide further help.
      • Contact your bank. If you think your credit or debit card numbers may have been compromised, reach out to your financial institution so it can cancel your cards and issue new ones.
      • Document everything – then block the scammer. Never try to reason with scammers or convince them to send your money back. It’s not likely to work; and the more information you offer, the more you open yourself up to future scams. Instead, take screenshots of every interaction you’ve had with the scammer, and then cease communication and block the account.

      💡 Related: What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed Out Of Money

      How To Avoid Gift Card Scams

      A gift card payment request of any type is an automatic red flag that you’re dealing with a scammer. Despite the scare tactics fraudsters may use to get you to comply, these types of calls and emails can be safely ignored.

      Here’s what you can do to avoid these types of scams in the future:

      • Don’t pay for goods, services, fees, or fines with Apple gift cards. Apple gift cards are only valid in the Apple Store or via iTunes. Don’t be tricked into using gift cards to pay for anything else.
      • Inspect physical gift cards before purchasing. Look for signs that they’ve been tampered with, and carefully check to see if scammers have added their own barcode stickers to the back. Don’t ever buy used gift cards.
      • Don’t carry a balance on your gift cards. Wait until you’re ready to purchase before activating your gift card. Using up the balance quickly upon activation will give scammers less time to steal your card numbers.
      • Hang up, or screen unsolicited calls. If you receive an unexpected call from a company, hang uhy p and call back using an official number. Aura’s Call Assistant can answer incoming calls from unknown numbers — and filter out those that are likely to be scams.
      • Learn to spot the warning signs of phishing emails. Emails containing strange language and grammar, threatening or urgent messages, or those from unknown domains often signal the start of a scam.

      Finally, consider signing up for a digital security provider. Aura provides comprehensive online security to keep you and your whole family safe from Apple gift card scams and other threats.

      Every Aura plan comes with award-winning identity theft protection for adults and children, internet safety and digital security tools, and 24/7 access to a dedicated team of U.S.-based Fraud Resolution Specialists. If the worst happens and you become the victim of identity theft, Aura covers every adult on your plan with a $1 million identity theft insurance policy.

      Safeguard yourself from scammers and fraudsters. Try Aura free today

      Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you to increase awareness about digital safety. Aura’s services may not provide the exact features we write about, nor may cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat discussed in our articles. Please review our Terms during enrollment or setup for more information. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.

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