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People love gift cards because of the convenience and flexibility they offer. Unfortunately, those same features also make gift cards very appealing to phone scammers. These scammers purposely target the most vulnerable people in society including seniors. These days, scamming people over the phone is big business. It’s estimated that Americans lost over $7.4 billion through scams in just the past year. Phone scams can often be very convincing and the scammers on the other end of the line work hard to convince a person that time is running out in order to catch them off guard.

Luckily, a little education can go a long way in protecting yourself and your loved ones from gift card scams. Learn about some of the common gift card scams below and share this blog with your friends and family to ensure that no one is taken advantage of.

Family Member in Distress

This type of scam is designed to tug at the heartstrings of family members and make them act quickly without thinking. Scammers will use social media to research the people they wish to target. Often, they don’t need much more than a name and some other basic info in order to execute their scam. Then, the scammer will use that information and phone a family member, claiming to be the person they have researched and asking for help. Some of the common stories they will tell involved an incident while traveling. The scammer may say that their belongings have been stolen and they need a gift card to be able to purchase supplies. Sometimes the situation is even more urgent where the scammer claims the family member has been taken hostage or arrested and needs to pay off their captor with a gift card.

The best way to protect against this is to hang up and call the family member that the scammer was pretending to be. It is very likely the person is not even traveling and may just be sitting at home watching television. In some cases, it may be helpful to have a code word that you can use on the phone with family members in cases where you may actually need to ask for money or gift cards. However, strange situations involving kidnapping, arrests, or robbery should immediately throw up red flags. Do not allow yourself to be tricked into acting too quickly and sending a gift card code over the phone.

Pay Off Your Taxes

This scam will often pop up around tax season. Scammers will phone potential victims and claim to be from a tax collection agency like the IRS. They will explain that a tax balance is due and it needs to be paid immediately or else there will be additional fines or jail time. Again, this scam follows the pattern of forcing people into acting urgently without stopping to think. The scammer will direct people to purchase gift cards to a popular store or retailer in order to pay off their balance. Once these gift card codes have been sent, the scam is complete.

There are some general rules to keep in mind when tax season rolls around to help avoid gift card scams, or any other tax scam for that matter. First, tax collectors will rarely ever contact you by phone to notify you of a balance due. Typically this type of information is sent by mail.

Phone Scam

Second, you cannot pay your taxes by using gift cards, period. You could sell gift cards for cash and then use the cash to pay your taxes but that is not what the scammers ask for. They want the actual balance of your gift card and will usually direct you to purchase a specific type of gift card. Finally, if a tax collector does phone you, ask them for their name and return phone number. You can go to the tax agencies’ website and confirm the correct phone number. This is a common security practice and the tax collector will have no issue with you taking the time to verify their information. If they are being urgent, pushy, and rude, then the chances are that they are trying to scam you.

Home Security System

Everyone loves getting a great deal but if the deal sounds too good to be true then it probably is. In the home security system scam, a caller will offer a free home security system if the victim buys a gift card. The home security system is usually given a very high value and scammers will often pretend to be calling from a major home security company. The scammer will direct people to buy a gift card online and read the code to them over the phone to verify that the gift card has been activated for this reward. Once that gift card code has been read over the phone, the gift card balance is stolen, leaving the victim with nothing.

Just like the above scams, this scam will attempt to create urgency. The scammer will claim this is a limited time offer and that there are only a few home security systems available in your area. They will do anything to stop you from hanging up the phone. If a business is offering a legitimate promotion, they will not stop you from hanging up and phoning back after verifying the phone number on their website. Be sure to research the home security company that the caller claims to be from and ensure they are a reputable provider. Sometimes, instead of trying to sell a home security system, scammers will offer other high priced products or services including home theatre systems, computers, travel packages, and more. Remember: if the deal seems too good to be true; it probably is.

Modern App Scams

Smartphones are powerful tools to organize our lives but they can also be powerful tools for scammers trying to keep up as technology advances. Some app scams aim to convince you to enter iTunes or Google Play gift card codes directly in the app in order to buy in-game currency or prizes. Apple and Google do a pretty good job of stopping harmful apps like this from entering their store; but with millions of apps there are always a few bad ones that sneak through the security process. If you have an iTunes or Google Play gift card, it’s important not to use that code in any other app on your phone. Those codes are only valid in the official Apple or Google stores. The only time you should provide gift card information outside of the official mobile app store is if you have chosen to sell gift cards for cash and you have ensured the company is honest and trustworthy, like EJ Gift Cards.

Political Donations

Whenever election season comes about, there is always a flurry of election-related scams. Many people often think they are supporting their local political candidate when, in fact, they are being scammed. This scam can be especially sneaky because it’s not uncommon to receive phone calls from politicians or their campaign team during election time. Never give out too much personal information over the phone. This includes gift card balances, credit card numbers, mailing information, or social security numbers. If you wish to donate to a political candidate, then the best way to do so would be to visit their official website and ensure you are using a secure internet connection. Politicians will also typically only ask for cash and not gift cards.

Secret Shopper Scam

This scam extends beyond the phone and can become very dangerous if people are not aware. Just like the scams above, this one starts with a phone call. The caller will pretend to be from a major retailer and they are looking for secret shoppers to test their cashiers. They offer a generous bonus for helping participate in the secret shopper program to entice people into following through. Then, the scammer will direct the victim to go a store and purchase one of their gift cards with the promise that the money will be paid back plus a cash bonus for helping. Once the gift card is purchased and activated, the victim will meet the scammer outside. The scammer is often dressed as an employee or in a suit. They will take the gift card and promise to mail payment. The payment is never sent and the victim has lost the money spent. In some cases, the scammer may turn violent, putting people at risk to lose more than just their money.

Another variation of this scam gets people to go to their bank and withdraw cash as a way to test the bank teller. The cash is given to a phony employee and the money is never deposited back into the bank account. Secret shopper jobs usually offer an hourly rate and go through a hiring process like any other job. A cold call from a stranger offering a secret shopper task should be an immediate red flag. In addition, secret shoppers usually do not give the products to an employee with payment promised in the future. A legitimate secret shopper job will usually ask you to return the item at the store’s customer service desk for an immediate refund.

Tech Support Scams

This type of scam is becoming more and more common. Scammers will phone and claim to be calling from Microsoft, Apple, or Google. They will say that they have detected a virus on your computer and they need to repair it. If you hear this, immediately hang up the phone. None of the companies will ever phone you out of the blue to repair an issue with your computer. If you do not hang up, the caller will attempt to make you download a program that locks your information. In return for unlocking your computer, they demand payment in the form of a gift card or wire transfer.

Similar scams are being attempted through email. Never click any link you don’t trust and do not download files from people you do not know. Those simple tips can be all it takes to protect yourself from a tech support scam.

Stay Ahead of Scammers

Scammers will always try to find new, inventive ways to steal your money. They love gift cards because gift cards are often untraceable and once the money is gone; it’s gone. Credit card companies have become better at stopping scammers which has forced them to change their focus to gift cards.

There are a few common rules that will protect you from any type of scam. First, if an offer is too good to be true then it probably is. Don’t allow scammers to trick you into giving away gift cards or money in return for expensive items. You should be especially careful if an offer like this comes through the phone. Also, avoid doing business with anyone who is trying to make you act quickly. Scammers love to make you feel like you’re in an emergency situation and there will be consequences if you don’t act right away. Any legitimate business or organization will not be upset if you tell them that you want to hang up and call back using the number on their website. If they complain about this they might be a scammer. Finally, never meet a stranger after being offered payment over the phone for a task. This is unsafe and very likely a scam.

If you have gift cards then there are only two things you can do: spend gift cards and sell gift cards. EJ Gift Cards is a trusted business that offers cash in return for gift cards. There’s no urgency or obligation to sell gift cards when you choose to contact us. All you have to do is log in, submit your information, and then review your offer. We will never charge any fees to find out the value of your gift cards and, if you choose to accept our offer, we pay cash directly to your PayPal account.