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What Is the Target Gift Card Scam? (How To Avoid It)

Americans lost over $200 million to gift card scams. Learn how to spot the latest Target gift card scams and protect your money.

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      Did Someone Ask You for Target Gift Cards? It Could Be a Scam

      When Amy Gac received a phone call saying she could get 50% off her Comcast internet service if she paid upfront for the next two years, she was excited [*]. The only catch was that she’d have to pay for it with Target gift cards. 

      With the caller still on the line, Amy drove to a Bay Area Target, purchased the gift cards, and read the numbers and PINs off the backs of the cards. It was only after the caller hung up that Amy realized the whole thing was a scam. 

      Gift card scams like this one are at an all-time high. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [*]:

      Americans lost more than $228 million to gift card scams in 2022 — with the majority of scammers requesting Target gift cards in their schemes.

      If you’ve bought, sold, or been asked to provide Target gift cards to pay for goods and services, you could be the victim of a Target gift card scam. 

      In this guide, we’ll explain how these gift card scams work, the latest scams to avoid, and what to do if you’ve accidentally sent scammers money or gift cards.

      {{show-toc}}

      What Are Target Gift Card Scams? How Do They Work?

      Target gift card scams include any scheme that requests Target gift cards as payment, or tricks you into purchasing gift cards that have already been emptied. 

      Scammers want gift cards because they’re easier to steal than cash and harder to trace than online payments. Once you’ve given the gift card number and access code to scammers, they can immediately steal the money saved on the card. 

      While scammers have numerous ways of trying to trick you into giving up Target gift cards, they typically follow a similar pattern: 

      • Scammers contact you pretending to be an organization that you trust. Many gift card scams happen over the phone. Imposters use the reputation or authority of a well-known organization to pressure you to buy gift cards and share the card numbers.
      • Next, they create an urgent situation. Fraudsters invent emergency situations to convince you to act without thinking. They try to manipulate your insecurities and fears to make you take action immediately – for example, by threatening arrest if you don’t pay the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) your back taxes right now.
      • They demand payment in the form of Target gift cards. Scammers may tell you that paying by credit card or wire transfer is too slow. Instead, they’ll guide you to your local Target and instruct you to purchase the requested amount in gift cards.
      • Once you give them the gift card details, they disappear. As soon as they have the card information, fraudsters deplete the card entirely and move on to their next victim.

      The bottom line. If someone tells you to pay them with gift cards, it’s a scam. Legitimate companies will never demand payment via Target gift cards. Many can’t even accept third-party gift cards as payment. 

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

      1. Government imposters demanding gift card payments
      2. Stealing in-store gift card numbers before you buy them
      3. Fraudulent barcodes on the backs of gift cards
      4. Offers of special deals in exchange for gift cards
      5. Fake invoices or order confirmation emails from Target
      6. Tech support scammers demanding Target gift cards
      7. Fake Target gift card balance checker websites
      8. Fraudsters posing as friends or family members
      9. Websites or ads offering free Target gift cards
      10. Fake gift cards used instead of cash

      Nearly one out of every three Americans has been targeted by a gift card scam, according to AARP [*]. Here’s how to identify (and avoid) the most common gift card scams: 

      1. Government imposters demanding gift card payments

      Gift card scams almost always rely on social engineering. Scammers create situations that cause their victims to react emotionally, rather than slowing down to think things through. 

      For example, fraudsters impersonate government agencies, such as the IRS, FBI, U.S. Treasury Department, or local law enforcement and claim that you’re in trouble. If you believe them (or are afraid of questioning their authority), they demand that you pay for fines, fees, or services via Target gift cards. 

      How to protect yourself against government imposters:

      • Independently verify phone calls from authorities. Ask for a name or extension of the person calling you, and then hang up and call the agency back via its official phone number. 
      • Be suspicious of emergencies that require immediate action. Government officials won’t push people to act immediately. If you feel a sense of urgency, consider this a red flag that you’re dealing with a scammer.
      • Never use gift cards to pay government fees. No legitimate agency only accepts gift cards as payment. The moment a supposed government official mentions gift cards, you can safely hang up.
      Take action: If scammers have your personal information (even just your name and phone number), your bank account and identity could be at risk. Try Aura’s award-winning identity theft protection solution free for 14 days and secure yourself against scammers.

      2. Stealing in-store gift card numbers before you buy them

      Target stores put protective security tape over the codes when displaying cards for sale. But scammers peel away this security tape, take a photo of the card information, and then replace the tape without being noticed by Target team members. 

      When someone buys and activates the card, scammers can use the numbers to transfer the balance to a different card that they control online. 

      How to avoid buying compromised gift cards:

      • Pay attention to packaging. Don’t buy cards that show signs of peeling or damage around the security tape covering the card’s PIN.
      • Compare cards to others in the store. Scammers create counterfeit security tape to replace Target’s authentic version, but it might not always be a perfect copy.

      3. Fraudulent barcodes on the backs of gift cards

      In another common Target gift card scam, fraudsters add fake barcode stickers to the backs of gift cards in stores. When you purchase the card and the cashier activates it, the balance is sent to a card that the scammers control — not yours. 

      How to verify a gift card barcode:

      • Look for stickers on the backs of gift cards. Check for any signs of tampering or if additional stickers have been placed on the back of the card.
      • Ask the cashier to print out your gift card balance. Check the receipt against the number on the card that you just purchased. You should also keep this receipt in case you need to dispute a stolen gift card later on. 

      ⛳️ Related: The 11 Worst Gift Card Scams You Didn’t Know About (Until Now)

      4. Offers of special deals in exchange for gift cards

      Scam artists try to convince you that Target has made a deal with a utility or service provider to offer a special discount — if you pay with Target gift cards. 

      This is never true. Scammers are just trying to use familiar brand names to convince you of their story. They might mention well-known telecom providers like Verizon or Comcast, or other brand names like Apple, Amazon, or Walmart.

      How to spot a utility or service scam:

      • Verify the “deal” online. If Target and Comcast really made a deal to offer a huge discount, the details would be published on both of their websites (and be made public, potentially even on local news). 
      • Never pay for utilities or services with gift cards. Big brands know that gift card scams hurt their reputation. They would never require customers to expose themselves to that kind of risk intentionally.
      • Don’t “confirm” sensitive information. Scammers may also ask you to confirm details of your account — such as your account number, bank data, or more. But giving up this information can put you at risk of identity theft or financial fraud. Legitimate companies won’t ask you for this information over the phone.

      5. Fake invoices or order confirmation emails from Target

      Gift card scams are more likely to work if fraudsters can get you on the phone. In this scam, they send fake invoices claiming that a purchase has been made at Target using your account [*]. In order to “cancel” the order, you need to call the phone number listed in the email.

      But once you call, you’ll be pulled into another common gift card scheme, such as an overpayment or refund scam

      How to detect fake emails from Target:

      • Look carefully at the email address. Official emails should only come from Target’s official email address (targetnews@em.target.com). 
      • Don’t automatically trust incoming emails. If an email claims that Target is processing an order on your behalf, go to Target’s website directly (not by clicking on a link in the email), log in to your account, and verify the claim. If you don’t see any order on your account, the email is a scam.

      6. Tech support scammers demanding Target gift cards

      Tech support scams occur when fraudsters either pose as legitimate tech support companies (like Apple or Geek Squad) or serve you fake pop-ups that claim your device has been infected with a virus [*].

      But if you call the number, scammers try to convince you to pay for useless services or software using Target gift cards. Even worse, they could trick you into downloading real viruses or giving them remote access to your device. 

      How to spot a tech support scammer:

      • Never trust tech support calls that you don’t initiate. You should only receive tech support calls for open support tickets that you actively pursue. If you need help, make sure you’re contacting a company using its official phone number or customer support system. 
      • Don’t trust pop-ups or text messages that claim your device is compromised. Websites or third-party services can’t scan your device for malware without access to it. 

      ⛳️ Related: Do Scammers Have Remote Access To Your Computer? Do This

      7. Fake Target gift card balance checker websites

      Scammers have set up fake websites designed to lure Target gift card holders into giving up their information when checking the balance of their cards. When you check your card on the spoof website, it sends your card information directly to cybercriminals.

      These websites may look exactly like Target’s official gift card balance check website and can also show up in your search results [*]. Scammers have even registered official-sounding website domains like “TargetGiftsCard.com.” 

      What the official Target gift card checking website looks like (requiring you to log in to your Target account).
      What the official Target gift card checking website looks like (requiring you to log in to your Target account).

      Here’s how to safely check your Target gift card balance:

      • Online: Go to Target.com and log in to your account (or create a new one), and then click on “Gift Card.” If you’re already logged in, you can access the gift card balance checker here.
      • On the phone: Call 1-800-544-2943 to check your balance and hear your last five transactions.

      8. Fraudsters posing as friends or family members in urgent need of help

      If scammers have hacked your friend or family member’s email or social media account, they may use it to target you with this scam. 

      Fraudsters pose as someone you know and create a situation in which they urgently need your help purchasing gift cards — such as for a family member or mutual friend’s birthday, or help with buying groceries. They’ll ask you to buy the gift cards for them and promise to pay you back later. 

      How to verify suspicious messages from contacts:

      • Reach out to your contacts on a separate platform. For example, if scammers have impersonated a close friend on social media, try contacting that person by phone.
      • Slow down and ask questions. Even in an emergency, your friends and family members should be able to give clear, accurate information about the situation they’re in. Don’t give in to the urge to react quickly without thinking.
      • Only send money through trusted channels. People usually send money to friends and family using cash, bank wires, or through payment apps like Zelle or Cash App. If someone demands gift cards, there’s a good chance that it’s a scam. 

      9. Websites or ads offering free Target gift cards

      Some websites, ads, or social media posts promise users they will receive free Target gift cards in exchange for opening an account, completing a survey, or performing some other action. Many of these websites are scams designed to trick you into giving up personal information or downloading malware onto your device.

      How to spot a fraudulent sweepstakes or gift offer:

      • They ask for too much personal information. Surveys shouldn’t ask for information that could lead to identity theft or account takeovers. If you’re asked to provide your credit card number, Social Security number (SSN), or answers to common security questions, leave immediately. 
      • The offer is too good to be true. Any campaign that offers a huge reward in exchange for a small amount of work is likely a scam. 

      Pro tip: These gift card scams aren’t limited to just Target gift cards. Beware of online scams promising Google Play, Apple, Walmart, or Visa gift cards.

      10. Fake gift cards used instead of cash

      Scammers may target sellers on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or OfferUp by requesting (or insisting) to pay with Target gift cards. They often have some way of “proving” that their gift cards are legitimate, such as a fake balance checker website or phone service. But once the transaction is over, they either empty the card online or send you one with a zero balance. 

      How to ensure a secure transaction when selling goods online:

      • Always use trusted payment methods. If you meet personally with a buyer, you have the right to demand cash payment. If not, reputable payment processors like PayPal offer protections to e-commerce merchants of all sizes.
      • Never accept gift card payments. There is no legitimate reason why someone would prefer to pay in gift cards instead of cash. Don’t trust anyone who is unwilling to pay for a product or service under your terms.

      Did You Send Scammers Target Gift Cards? Do This!

      If you sent Target cards to someone as payment, you probably got scammed. However, if you act quickly enough, you may be able to get your money back from the card issuer.

      Target operates a GiftCard Services line that you can call to speak to a fraud specialist. Call Target at 1-800-544-2943 and explain the situation. If Target can successfully recuperate the money by canceling the gift card, you may be able to get your money back.

      You should also report fraud to local law enforcement, your bank, and the FTC (by visiting ReportFraud.ftc.gov). If you reveal any personal information to scammers – like your address, bank account number, or SSN – they may use it to steal your identity and commit even greater fraud in your name.

      Stay Safe: Here’s What To Do If You Think Your Identity Was Stolen

      How To Identify (and Avoid) Gift Card Scams

      Gift card scams come in many shapes and forms and aren’t just limited to the holiday season. 

      To protect yourself against these scams, pay close attention to some of the telltale signs of gift card fraud:

      • Don’t buy cards that have been tampered with. Look for cards placed within eyesight of an attentive employee. Examine every gift card that you buy before paying.
      • Never pay for services, goods, or “fees” via Target gift cards. Only use gift cards as gifts. There is never a legitimate reason for someone to request gift cards for payment instead of cash or bank transfers.
      • Don’t activate Target gift cards until you’re ready to use them. Once a gift card is activated, anyone can use it. If you buy a gift card for someone, do so as closely as possible to the day that you give the gift to your intended recipient.
      • Hang up on anyone who requests payment in Target gift cards. You can always safely ignore people who demand Target gift cards as payment. The same is also true of Google, eBay, Steam, and Amazon gift cards.
      • Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails. Scammers may use phishing emails to direct you to spoofed gift card pages. They can use these tools to drain your gift card balances and even steal your identity.
      • Create a strong password and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for your Target account. Keep scammers from breaking into all your accounts by choosing unique, complex passwords that include upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Using 2FA adds an extra layer of security to help protect your accounts.
      • Use Safe Browsing tools to warn you if you’re on a fake website. Some gift card spoof websites look exactly like the real thing. Only a highly technical verification will warn you that the website is fake.
      • Consider signing up for a digital security solution. Aura provides award-winning identity theft protection, the fastest and most reliable credit monitoring in the industry,  and a comprehensive suite of Safe Browsing tools that help safeguard you and your family against scammers. If the worst should happen, every adult member on your Aura plan is covered by a $1 million insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft. 
      Try Aura for yourself — for free. Get advanced protection against scammers, identity thieves, and cybercriminals. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      The Bottom Line: Avoid Target Gift Card Scams

      Target gift cards are among the most popular payment methods used by scammers. Unfortunately, Target can’t prevent people from abusing their gift cards, so the responsibility for identifying scams falls on everyday customers.

      Stay up to date on the latest Target gift card scams, and question anyone who asks for payment in gift cards — whether from Target or another retailer. 

      For added security and peace of mind, let Aura protect your online and financial accounts, data, sensitive personal information, and devices from scammers and hackers, 24/7. 

      Stay safe from online threats. 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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