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How To Avoid The Latest Gift Card Scams (2024)

Gift cards are among the most popular targets for scammers. Learn how to spot (and avoid) the latest gift card scams.

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      Are You Dealing With a Gift Card Scam?

      The simple truth is that if someone asks you to pay for goods, services, fines, fees, or to “protect” your bank account by buying and sharing gift card details, it’s a scam.

      Unfortunately, despite more people being aware of the dangers of gift card scams, they’ve continued to skyrocket in recent years. According to the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]:

      Americans lost over $228 million to gift card scams last year alone.

      Gift cards are still a legitimate payment method — when used properly and safely.

      In this guide, we’ll explain how gift card scams work and why scammers want gift cards, the latest and most common scams to be aware of, and how you can get your money back and protect yourself if you’ve sent gift cards to a fraudster.


      What are Gift Card Scams? How Do They Work?

      Gift card scams occur when fraudsters trick you into buying gift cards or prepaid cards and sharing the information on the backs of the cards with them. Scammers want gift cards because they’re easy to purchase, nearly impossible to trace or refund, and can be treated as cash.

      The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that the average consumer loses $700 in this type of scam, with elderly victims losing the most [*].

      Each scammer has a preferred target with the most common gift card scams going after cards from Google Play, eBay, Amazon, Apple, Steam, Visa, and Target.

      Yet, despite the different angles, most gift card scams follow a similar pattern.

      Here’s how a typical gift card scam plays out:

      • Fraudsters contact you pretending to be someone you trust. Scammers try to gain your trust by impersonating trusted authorities  — such as companies like Amazon, your bank or utility company, or even your boss. Many gift card scams happen over the phone because imposters know they can get you to stay on the line while you purchase gift cards and share the numbers and PINs.
      • Next, they create an urgent situation. Scammers will try to get you to act without thinking by scaring you with claims that your bank account was compromised, you’re behind on a payment, or you were scammed. They may even take the opposite approach and claim you’ve won a prize — but need to pay fees with gift cards before it can be released.
      • To fix the situation, the solution will be to send them money via gift cards. You’ll be asked to purchase and share the gift card number and PIN. This information is typically on the back of the card, and it gives them instant access to the money on the card. Scammers will often keep you on the phone and tell you exactly which gift cards to buy (Amazon, Target, Google Play, etc.).

      The bottom line: If you’re told to pay with gift cards, it’s a scam. Legitimate companies will never demand (nor typically accept) payment via gift cards. The moment someone asks for a gift card payment, you should hang up or delete the email.

      🥇 Get award-winning spam, scam, and identity theft protection — for free. Aura combines advanced digital security tools with #1-rated identity theft and fraud protection to keep you safe from online threats and scams. Try Aura for free today.

      The 10 Latest Gift Card Scams (and How To Avoid Them)

      1. Imposters demanding gift card payments over the phone
      2. Physical gift cards that have been tampered with
      3. Charity and fundraiser scams using gift cards
      4. Fake gift card activation websites and phone numbers
      5. A friend or family member “in need”
      6. Overpayment and refund scams
      7. Scammers on dating sites
      8. Fraudsters impersonating your boss
      9. Fake prizes, sweepstakes, and giveaways
      10. Discounted gift cards for sale on Facebook Marketplace

      According to AARP, over 73 million Americans were targeted by gift card scams in 2022 [*].

      Here are the latest scams you need to know about (and how to avoid them):

      1. Imposters demanding gift card payments over the phone

      The most common type of gift card scam happens over the phone. Fraudsters call and pretend to be from a company or government agency that you know and trust, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration (SSA), or your utility company.

      Next, they claim you’re overdue on a payment or owe money — and that the only way to stay out of trouble is to pay them with gift cards.

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Be wary of unsolicited calls claiming to be from a government agency or large organization. Most government agencies won’t call you unless you request them to (or first reach out through other methods). If someone calls you, ask for their name and reference number — then hang up and call the organization back via its official phone number.  
      • Question why you need to use gift cards for a service that should accept other forms of payment. Any government agency or company will accept more traditional forms of payment, such as credit cards or bank transfers.
      • Be cautious if they don’t know many (or any) specifics about you or your account. Even if they know information like your Social Security number (SSN) or account number, it could still be a scam. Fraudsters can buy this information on the Dark Web.

      💡 Related: How To Identify a Fake Social Security Scam Call

      2. Physical gift cards that have been tampered with

      Gift cards bought from stores can be tampered with before you even purchase them. One common scam involves fraudsters applying fake barcodes to the backs of gift cards in stores — so that when you activate the card, the money is sent to the scammer’s gift card instead of yours.

      Example of a fake barcode on an Amazon gift card.
      Example of a fake barcode on an Amazon gift card. Source: Reddit

      Scammers may also scratch off the material covering the card’s number and PIN (and cover it with a similar silver sticker). Once you activate the card, they can steal the balance.

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Run your finger over the back of the gift card. Check the backs of gift cards for signs of tampering before you buy them — this could include a barcode sticker that has been affixed over the original one or ensuring that the part of the gift card displaying the gift card number or PIN hasn’t been scratched off.
      • Confirm the balance, and hold on to the gift card receipt. Ask the cashier to check your balance and keep your receipt. This can act as your proof if you need to dispute the card.
      • Keep a careful eye on the cashier. Occasionally, a store cashier could try to scam you by swapping out your activated gift card for a used one during the checkout process (or when you try to pay with it). To stay safe, keep your receipt and record of balance and check the receipt against the card you’re given.

      3. Charity and fundraiser scams using gift cards

      Fraudsters target people looking to donate to charities or fundraising campaigns — such as for social justice issues or after natural disasters. These scams typically happen on social media, but scammers may also call you to solicit donations, especially during the busy holiday season when people are more likely to give to charities.

      The best way to avoid a charity gift card scam is to only donate to legitimate charities — and never pay with gift cards. Here’s how to check if a charity is legitimate:

      • contains a rating system for each charity, which allows you to make a more informed decision about where your money is going.
      • The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance features accredited charities and a searchable database.
      • places special emphasis on financial transparency and unbiased reporting. Search results include a detailed rating system, and provide insight into how specific charities distribute their cash flow.

      💡 Related: How To Quickly Spot and Avoid Charity Scams

      4. Fake gift card activation websites and phone numbers

      Many companies have websites or phone numbers that allow you to check your gift card balance. But scammers have started creating fake websites that show up when you search for balance checking sites. If you enter the gift card number and PIN on these sites, scammers get access to your balance.

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Verify the URL before entering your gift card information. Your safest bet is to look for a balance checker on the company who issued the gift card’s official website. Don’t blindly trust the first search results that come up when looking for a balance checking site. In one example, Google even approved an ad for a fake Target gift card checking website [*].
      • Call the activation number on the card rather than going to the website. Whenever possible, use the official contact information on the card rather than calling phone numbers that appear in your search results.
      ⚠️ Use Safe Browsing tools to warn you of fake websites. Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution includes tools to protect you from phishing websites, emails, calls, and other common scams. Try Aura for free today.

      5. A friend or family member “in need” who requests gift cards

      In this scam, cybercriminals hack email or social media accounts and send out messages to friends and family members asking for help buying a gift card (usually for someone’s birthday). The hacker will ask the recipient to buy a certain type of gift card and then send the gift card information to a different email address.

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Check if the tone or writing style of your “friend” or “family member” feels off. Trust your gut — especially if the message is clearly trying to create a sense of urgency.
      • Double-check the legitimacy of the message with its purported sender. Reach out to the person who sent you the message over text or a phone call. This way you can confirm whether the person really needs the gift card — or if they’ve been hacked.

      💡 Related: Have I Been Hacked? How To Recognize and Recover From a Hack

      6. Overpayment and refund scams that require gift cards

      This is a sophisticated gift card scam that’s best explained using a real-life story:

      When Kim Grove received an email from Amazon alerting her to fraud on her account, she acted quickly. But after calling the phone number listed in the email, Kim watched as the Amazon representative “accidentally” refunded her more than $10,000.

      In order to reimburse the overpayment, Kim was instructed to purchase Apple gift cards and read out the numbers on the back. It was only after sending over $11,500 in gift cards that Kim realized the whole thing was a scam [*].

      Scammers have multiple angles for this type of scam — from sending fake invoices for software or services to impersonating tech support employees.

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Never refund money if a representative “accidentally” sends you too much. This is an immediate red flag. If this is the case, hang up and contact the company directly to make sure it wasn’t a legitimate mistake.
      • Don’t pay back companies using gift cards. Gift cards are meant for gifts — not to pay for goods or services.
      • Avoid installing remote access software, such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer. Scammers use these tools to manipulate your screen and make it look like they’ve refunded you too much money.

      7. Scammers on dating sites and apps asking for gift cards

      In romance scams, fraudsters create fake online profiles to “catfish” users on dating apps or social media sites, and then trick victims into thinking they’re romantically interested in them. In many romance scams, scammers will request gift cards to help pay for emergencies, fund a trip to visit you, or as presents — such as to help with their child’s birthday, or to buy attractive clothing.

      According to the latest data from the FBI, Americans lost over $735 million to romance scams in 2022 [*].

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Never send money to someone you haven’t met. This is the golden rule of avoiding online scams: If you haven’t met in person, do not send anyone money or gift cards.
      • Learn to spot the warning signs of an online dating scammer. Fraudsters use stolen photos and quickly profess their love — even if you’ve never spoken over the phone, had a video call, or met in person.

      💡 Related: How To Spot a Scammer on a Dating Site

      8. Scammers pretending to be your boss or colleague asking for gift cards

      In this scam, victims receive a fake text message claiming to be from their boss or colleague — asking them to buy gift cards for a client. The sender will say it’s an urgent request and that they’re busy in a meeting and can only communicate via text.

      Example of text message from fake employer seeking Target gift cards.
      Example of text message from fake employer seeking Target gift cards. Source: New York Attorney General’s Office

      If you purchase the gift cards under the assumption that you’ll be reimbursed, your “boss” or “colleague” will request that you send them photos of the numbers and PINs on the backs of the cards — giving scammers easy access to the cards’ balances.

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Be wary of any communication from an unknown number or email address. Double-check the contact information that you have for your boss or colleague, andreach out to them via another channel that can’t be compromised.
      • Don’t make company purchases using your personal cards. If you haven’t been asked to make purchases for your company before and don’t have a way to expense it, it’s probably a scam.
      🛡 Do scammers have your name, workplace, and phone number? Your identity could be at risk. Scammers can use your stolen personal information to steal your identity or even empty your bank account. Try Aura’s award-winning identity theft protection free for 14 days.

      9. Fake prizes, sweepstakes, and giveaways asking you to pay “fees”

      Another common gift card scam occurs when fraudsters reach out to let victims know they’ve won a prize, sweepstakes, or online giveaway. But in order to redeem the prize, the “winner” has to pay fees with a gift card purchase. Ultimately, it’s all a scam and there is no prize.

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Never pay to win prizes. Lotteries and sweepstakes will not ask you to pay to receive a prize that you’ve legitimately won — especially by using gift cards as your payment method.
      • If you won a sweepstakes that you never entered, it’s a scam. Ask yourself if you’ve recently entered a giveaway or sweepstakes. If not, you’re likely being targeted for a scam.

      💡 Related: How To Spot (and Avoid) Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

      10. Discounted gift cards for sale on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, etc.

      While there are legitimate third-party sites for reselling gift cards, scammers will often post too-good-to-be-true deals on sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or OfferUp, which have less protections in place for buyers.

      The most common scam is selling a used gift card at a discounted price. However, another more sophisticated scheme involves fake “balance checker” phone calls targeting gift card sellers.

      In this scam, fraudsters will reach out and request that you contact the merchant to “prove” the balance is on the card. They’ll then initiate a three-way call with an automated line that asks you to input the card numbers and PINs.

      In reality, it’s all fake and the scammers are able to decode the card’s information from the key tones — and drain your balance.

      Warning signs and how to avoid this gift card scam:

      • Don’t trust too-good deals on online marketplaces. Places like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist don’t have buyer protection in the case of a fake gift card scam. If a deal seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
      • Only buy and sell gift cards on legitimate card-selling websites. For example, CardCash or ClipKard. Avoid trying to sell gift cards on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
      • Use other methods of verifying the gift card balance. If you decide to sell the card yourself, meet the buyer at the store so that you can check the balance in person.

      Did You Send Scammers Gift Cards? Do This!

      If you’ve sent scammers gift card information, it’s not the end of the world. While they may be able to steal the total gift card balance, it won’t necessarily put you at risk of further financial fraud or identity theft.

      Here are a few steps that you can take if you’ve fallen victim to a gift card scam:

      • Contact your bank and warn them that you may be the victim of fraud. If you sent a scammer payment information to buy a fake gift card, your bank account could be compromised. Contact your financial institution as soon as possible to cancel your accounts and receive new credit and debit cards.
      • File a police report with local law enforcement. This step is often necessary in fraud cases to help get your money back.
      • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Head to to report any fraudulent activity or scams in order to help combat this activity. Include as much information as you can, including when you bought the gift cards, contact information from the scammer, etc.
      • Consider signing up for identity and credit monitoring. A gift card scam can often be the start of something much worse. Fraudsters may use your personal information to steal your identity, take out loans in your name, or even access your bank account. To stay safe, consider an all-in-one identity theft protection solution to monitor and alert you of potential fraud.
      ⚡️ Shut down scammers fast with Aura.Aura’s all-in-one solution has been rated #1 by, Forbes, TechRadar, and more. Try Aura for free and protect yourself from the threat of scammers and identity thieves.

      How To Get Your Money Back From a Gift Card Scam

      In most cases, it will be nearly impossible to refund a gift card you’ve sent to scammers. However, some card issuers may be able to help — especially if the funds haven’t been spent or transferred.

      The sooner you report the fraud, the more likely it is that you might be able to get at least some of your money back. Make sure you keep a copy of your gift card or your store receipt and then contact the company that issued the card.

      Here’s how to contact the companies and retailers most likely to be targeted by gift card scams:

      How to contact
      Call 1 (888) 280-4331
      Call 1 (800) 544-2943
      Call 1 (800) 275-2273 and say “gift card”
      Call 1 (888) 537-5503
      Visa gift cards
      Call 1 (800) 847-2911

      The Bottom Line: You Can Avoid Gift Card Scams

      Gift card fraud is one of the most popular scams right now due to how easy it is to purchase cards — and how difficult it can be to refund stolen amounts.

      Follow these tips to make sure you’re not falling victim to a gift card scam:

      • Inspect physical gift cards before purchasing. Check for signs that they’ve been tampered with or that scammers have added their own barcode stickers to the back.
      • Never pay for services or fees with gift cards. Gift cards are not a form of currency that any legitimate company will request in return for services (or to refund overpayment amounts).
      • Don’t activate gift cards until you’re ready to use them. This gives scammers less time to steal your balance. Once you activate the card, use it quickly.
      • Hang up on unsolicited phone calls. Or, don’t answer the phone unless you recognize the number or are expecting a call.
      • Learn to spot the warning signs of phishing emails. Pay attention to the sender email address, and watch for grammatical errors, urgent language, and suspicious links or attachments.
      • Block spam and unwanted calls and texts. At a minimum, register your number on the national Do Not Call list by calling 1-888-382-1222 or visiting You can also look into ways to block spam texts and stop unwanted phone calls.
      • Use Safe Browsing tools. These online security tools can warn you if you’re on fake or dangerous websites.

      Lastly, for added security, consider signing up for a digital security provider.

      Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution helps you and your family stay safe online with award-winning identity theft protection, the industry’s most reliable (and fastest) fraud alerts, and a full suite of proactive, easy-to-use tools — including a virtual private network (VPN), antivirus software, Safe Browsing, parental controls, and a robust password manager.

      Plus, every adult member on your Aura plan is covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.

      Protect your finances and identity from scammers. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      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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