Is It Safe To Pay for Items With eBay Gift Cards?
Gift card scams are on the rise — but scammers have become pickier about which gift cards they want.
In particular, eBay gift cards are among the most sought-after commodities for cybercriminals, with victims losing more than $10 million to eBay gift card scams in the first nine months of 2021 alone [*].
eBay gift cards are a perfect target for scammers because they can be treated almost exactly like cash. If you send a scammer gift card numbers or the codes found on the backs of the cards, your money is as good as gone.
That’s exactly what happened to Steve Dobbins last year when he tried to buy a $1,200 vehicle on eBay Motors with gift cards [*]. Fraudsters tricked Steve into sharing the gift card numbers — rather than using them to pay for the car on eBay — and disappeared with his money.
Gift card scams may seem easy to spot, but scammers are getting more sophisticated with their schemes.
In this guide, we’ll explain how eBay gift card scams work, the most common scams to watch out for, and what to do if you’ve been scammed out of gift cards.
What Are eBay Gift Card Scams? How Do They Work?
There’s no one-size-fits-all eBay gift card scam. Instead, most of these scams succeed by either pressuring people to send gift cards as payment for non-existent fees and fraudulent purchases, or tricking victims into sharing eBay gift card information outside of the normal checkout process on eBay.com.
Yet, while the scams may differ, the process is roughly the same. Here’s how an eBay gift card scam typically plays out:
- Scammers start by quickly building trust and rapport with their victims through common social engineering tactics. This could mean impersonating an authority figure to create a sense of urgency (like the police or IRS) or inventing a sob story as to why they’re selling a high-priced item for an unbelievably low price.
- Once they have their victims believing their con, fraudsters claim they need gift cards as payment. They’ll explain that it’s a secure way to send money, or it’s the fastest payment method to get you out of trouble.
- Scammers often try to keep you on the phone while you buy physical cards at a retailer like CVS, and then get you to read out the redemption codes and PIN numbers to them. Once they have this information, the gift cards can’t be reversed or recovered.
When the scam is spelled out like this, it may seem like it would be obvious to spot. Yet, nearly $245 million in gift card fraud was reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) between January 2018 and September 2021 [*].
Can You Cancel an eBay Gift Card That You’ve Sent To Scammers?
eBay gift cards are like cash. Once scammers use the gift card numbers that you’ve provided, it’s nearly impossible for you to recover the funds.
While eBay has a buyer protection program, it only protects purchases that are made entirely through the eBay platform. This means that if scammers ask you to pay for an item from another retailer like Amazon or Walmart with eBay gift cards, your purchase isn’t protected.
The bottom line: Only use gift cards for gifts.
The 8 Latest eBay Gift Card Scams To Avoid
- Cheap vehicles for sale on eBay Motors
- Impersonation scams
- Too-good-to-be-true deals
- Fake texts claiming to be from your boss
- Claims that you owe debts
- Tech support scams
- Deep discounts on services
- Fraudulent bank phone calls
While some of these scams are specific to eBay gift cards, they easily apply to other commonly used company gift cards — including PayPal, Amazon, Apple, and Target.
Be on the lookout for the warning signs of these eight eBay gift card scams:
1. Cheap vehicles for sale on eBay Motors
Scammers have flocked to eBay Motors, as it presents an easy way to trick victims into paying for expensive items using gift cards.
In this scam, fraudsters post a vehicle priced below market value and claim they have to sell it quickly. Then, they ask you to pay using eBay gift cards, but not through the normal checkout process. Instead, they want you to give them the numbers directly (which voids your buyer protection).
How to avoid the cheap vehicle eBay gift card scam:
- Be wary of any too-good-to-be-true deals on eBay Motors. If a vehicle is listed well below the market value, or if sellers have elaborate stories as to why they can’t meet in person, it’s most likely a scam.
- Never pay for a purchase on eBay Motors outside of the official checkout. This voids any protection you have as an eBay buyer.
- Always check the seller’s history and past reviews for potential red flags. For example, a brand new profile or negative reviews can warn you that you’re dealing with a fraudster.
In the news: Vanessa Hale thought she struck gold when she found an ad for an $800 car on eBay Motors. But after following the seller’s instructions to pay the purchase amount in gift cards and share the codes, she was left car-less and $800 poorer [*].
2. Impersonation scams demanding gift cards as payment
eBay gift cards are often used during phishing or impersonation scams. Fraudsters pose as organizations or companies that you trust (such as the IRS or Amazon) and then pressure you into sending them gift cards as payment for services, to cover the cost of fines, or to release your “winnings” from a fake sweepstakes.
In one example, a Fort Wayne woman received a Facebook message claiming she was eligible for a $50,000 income-based government grant [*]. The only catch was that she had to pay $300 in eBay and iTunes gift cards to “finalize” the application.
How to avoid losing gift cards and money to an impersonation scam:
- Never provide gift card codes, money, or sensitive information to someone who calls, texts, emails, or otherwise contacts you. If you think the message is legitimate, contact the company or agency directly using the contact information on its official website.
- Don’t pay for services, fines, prizes, or anything else with gift cards. If someone — especially someone claiming to be from a government agency — asks you to use gift cards in place of credit cards or other safer payment methods, it’s a scam.
- Hang up if someone calls and claims to be from a government agency. The IRS and other agencies will rarely call you without your permission. Always ask for their extension or name, and then call them back using the phone number on their website.
Note: Hang up or ignore any message from the “Federal Grants Administration.” This agency doesn’t exist and is a scam.
3. Too-good-to-be-true deals on online marketplaces
Fake online marketplace listings are among the most common types of scams that trick people into giving up gift cards. These scams rely on excitement about a great deal to bypass a victim’s better judgment.
In one example, a man in Louisiana found a “sweet deal” on a new motorhome for just $1,200 [*]. But after being told by the seller to send six $200 eBay gift cards to cover the shipping costs upfront, he luckily saw the scam for what it was and walked away from the sale.
How to avoid sending gift cards to online marketplace scammers:
- Always do your due diligence when buying on online platforms like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or OfferUp. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Pay attention to the actual listing copy and photos. If the photos look heavily edited, or if there are spelling and grammar mistakes, beware.
- Try to only buy from established sellers on eBay. Brand new sellers posting “deals” are more likely to be scam accounts.
- When in doubt, pay for items on eBay with credit or debit cards. These are easily traceable, and can be reversed in the event of a scam.
💡 Related: Scammed on eBay? Here’s How To Get Your Money Back →
4. Fake texts claiming to be from your boss asking you to buy gift cards
In this scam, fraudsters research their targets to find out the names of their colleagues, bosses, or partners. Then, they reach out over text or email claiming to urgently need them to purchase gift cards for a client or special occasion.
In reality, scammers have either hacked your colleagues’ accounts, or spoofed their emails or phone numbers to make it look like the messages are coming from them.
How to avoid the “boss text” gift card scam:
- Never buy gift cards for “your boss” without confirming the request in person, on the phone, or by using another secure contact method. Be especially cautious if you’re told to buy the cards with your own money (with the promise of being reimbursed later on).
- Look out for messages that try to create a sense of urgency — such as your boss or colleague saying that they’re in an important meeting or presentation, or that their child is in the hospital.
- Double-check that the message is coming from an account or phone number in your contacts list. If the message comes from a different phone number or email address than the one that your boss normally uses, that’s a huge red flag.
Note: Scammers sometimes use this same technique but pretend to be a family member or friend in need. Always make sure you confirm the request directly with the person before buying and sending them gift card codes.
5. Claims that you owe debts that can only be paid off via eBay gift cards
Scammers know that most people fear missing a payment, which could impact their credit score. In this scam, fraudsters claim that you owe some form of debt — such as an overdue utility bill, unpaid taxes, or a fine for missing jury duty. But the only way to pay off the debt is with an eBay gift card (or similar).
While this may seem like an obvious scam, there were 14,000 cases of gift card debt scams reported to the FTC in the first three months of 2021 alone [*].
How to avoid a gift card debt scam:
- Never use gift cards to pay for services or fines. Utility companies, government agencies, and law enforcement will never ask you to pay them in gift cards.
- Confirm all owed debts directly with a company before paying. Log in to your account, or call the agency’s official phone number before sending money.
6. Tech support scams requiring payment in gift cards
Tech support scammers target victims by claiming that their devices are infected with malware or viruses, and then charge them upfront to “fix” the issue. Scammers will either send you a text or email, use browser pop-ups, or post fake tech support phone numbers to get you on the phone with them.
But the whole thing is a scam. In the end, you’ll either end up paying for unnecessary services or give scammers remote access to your computer.
How to avoid a tech support gift card scam:
- Never pay for tech support services upfront — especially with gift cards. Reputable companies almost always offer technical support for free and will never force you to pay via gift cards, wire transfers, payment apps, or other non-reversible options.
- Don’t Google customer support phone numbers. Scammers often post fake numbers on websites that show up in search results. Instead, go directly to a company’s official website and contact them through the listed methods.
- Be very careful if someone wants you to download remote access software, such as AnyDesk, TeamViewer, or Splashtop. These apps give scammers total control over your devices.
7. Deep discounts for services if you pay upfront with gift cards
Deep discounts combine impersonation and too-good-to-be-true scams. In this scheme, fraudsters impersonate well-known brands and offer significant discounts on products, services, or subscriptions — in return for an upfront payment via gift cards.
How to avoid deep discount gift card scams:
- Don’t believe any business or company that offers a discount if you pay upfront with gift cards. No reputable business accepts gift cards (other than their own) as a payment method.
- If you think the deal is real, contact the company directly to verify. Make sure that you’re on their official website, and always use the provided contact information.
In the news: Karen Trotter thought she had found a deal on social media for WWE tickets [*]. When she called the number in the ad, she reached someone claiming to work for Ticketmaster who asked her to buy $250 in eBay gift cards from her local Kroeger.
After she gave them the numbers, she was told the gift cards “didn’t work” and she’d have to go to Walgreens instead. That’s when she realized it was a scam.
8. Fraudulent calls claiming you need to buy gift cards to protect your money
In this scam, fraudsters call you pretending to be from eBay (or in some cases, your bank) and claim that your account has been compromised. The caller then insists that the only way to protect your money or connected bank account is to take out your money in eBay gift cards.
How to avoid the compromised account gift card scam:
- Don’t trust any unsolicited or unrequested phone calls claiming to be from eBay, your bank, or other companies. Always ask for the caller’s information and then hang up and call back using the company’s official phone number.
- Double-check the email address or phone number of any message that claims your account is compromised. If it doesn’t come from an official domain (for example: “[name]@ebay.com”), it’s a scam.
- Always remember: gift cards should only be used for gifts. They can’t “protect” your assets in any way.
Were You the Victim of an eBay Gift Card Scam? Do This
If you or a loved one fell for an eBay gift card scam, follow these steps:
- Keep the gift card and receipt to show proof to eBay and/or local authorities that you were the original purchaser.
- Contact eBay customer service right away and explain what happened. If the scam happened on eBay, request a refund from the seller. eBay won’t engage in disputes on their platform until you attempt to resolve the issue yourself.
- Contact your bank and any impacted credit card companies if you gave the scammer financial information. Request that they close your accounts and issue you new credit and debit cards.
- Freeze your credit with the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) to stop scammers from using your personal information to take out loans or open new accounts in your name. You should also consider signing up for credit monitoring to alert you of any suspicious activity in your bank, credit, and investment accounts.
- Report the fraud to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. If you have any information that could lead to an arrest, you should also file a police report with local law enforcement.
- If you gave away any personal information — such as your Social Security number (SSN), bank account details, etc. — file an official identity theft report with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov. Then, monitor your credit report, online accounts, and bank statements for any signs of identity theft.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection. With Aura, you get top-rated identity theft protection, three-bureau credit monitoring, 24/7 access to fraud remediation specialists, and $1,000,000 in insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft. Enjoy peace of mind, and try Aura free for 14 days.
💡 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your SSN? →
How To Protect Yourself From eBay Gift Card Scams
It’s always better to avoid scams than deal with the fallout from them. To start, learn how to spot the signs of an online scam. Then, follow these best practices to keep yourself safe from eBay gift card scams:
- Treat eBay gift cards like cash. Once they’re sent (or the numbers are shared), that money is gone and almost impossible to recover.
- Never click on links or respond to unsolicited emails or texts — eBay will not text you for any reason. If you’re concerned that a message seems real, log in to your eBay account directly and check.
- Don’t blindly trust your caller ID. Do a quick Google search to make sure the phone number you’re calling is the right one. Many gift card scams happen over the phone with scammers impersonating trusted brands or government agencies.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Give Scammers the Gift of Free Money
There are few things as frustrating as losing money due to an eBay gift card scam, or worse — becoming the victim of identity theft.
Be on the lookout for the warning signs of an eBay gift card scam, and always remember that gift cards are for gifts only. If someone wants you to pay for services, fines, and products with gift cards outside of an official checkout — it’s a scam.
And for added protection, consider signing up for Aura.
Aura not only monitors your personal information and financial accounts for signs of fraud, but can alert you to suspicious activity and account compromises up to 4x faster than competitors. And if the worst should happen, Aura’s team of U.S.-based Fraud Resolution Specialists are available 24/7 via email or phone.