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Playing the Smart Card

How to spot fraud and protect yourself from gift card scams

October 2023

Gift cards have been the top requested gift in America for nearly two decades, according to the National Retail Federation. Unfortunately, they are popular with criminals, too.

Story courtesy of Brandpoint Content

Criminals are smart. And increasingly sophisticated.

With technology and artificial intelligence at their fingertips, they are constantly finding clever ways to take advantage of honest, hardworking Americans. There are a variety of scams criminals use to steal money, and many are turning to more cunning methods that involve bank accounts, debit and credit cards, and gift cards.

People love gift cards; they’ve been the top requested gift in America for nearly two decades according to the National Retail Federation. But while everyday folks love giving, receiving and using gift cards, unfortunately so do criminals. Just like other payment methods, criminals use intelligent means of stealing money from gift cards — but we have some tips for how to spot them, outsmart the scammers and protect yourself.

Here are some gift card safety tips:

  • Gift cards can only be used at the company on the card. If you get asked to send money or pay for another service with a gift card, stop and contact law enforcement, even if the fraudster tells you not to talk to anyone or a loved one is in trouble. No real government agency or business will ever reach out and ask you to pay them with gift cards — and you can’t pay taxes or bail money with gift cards.
  • Check gift card packaging at the store and make sure the gift card hasn’t been tampered with. Look for things like ripped or torn packaging, or missing scratch-off material over the top of the PIN number. If something doesn’t look right, pick another card and show the questionable card to a store associate.
  • When you buy a gift card, keep your activation receipt as proof of your purchase.
  • Only buy gift cards from trusted sources. If you’re offered a deal that’s too good to be true, like a big discount on a gift card, it’s likely a scam or you’re getting a fraudulent card.
  • Store your gift cards securely and don’t share gift card numbers or PINs with people you don’t know.

If you think you have been scammed or see fraud happening, contact your local law enforcement or the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or via this toll-free number: 1-877-FTC-HELP. You can also report IRS impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration: visit its website or call 800-366-4484.