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FTC Warns of Gift Card Scams

FTC Warns of Gift Card Scams

Watch for customers buying large amounts of cards.

February 02, 2021

WASHINGTON—The Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings about gift-card scams as some retailers report an increase in customers—especially older customers—purchasing large amounts of gift cards in their stores. The agency has created a Stop Gift Card Scams Toolkit to help retailers do their part to prevent this form of fraud.

Gift cards are for gifts, not payments, but scammers are asking consumers to pay with gift cards, the FTC reports. Typically, they contact victims by phone and claim to be from a legitimate organization, such as the IRS or a tech support company. They may tell the victim that they owe back taxes or have a computer problem that needs fixing. The call is always urgent, and the caller wants the victim to go to a retail store and purchase a popular gift card, such as iTunes, Google Play or Amazon.

Sometimes, the caller stays on the phone with the victims while they go to a nearby store. Once the card is purchased, the caller then demands the gift card number and PIN on the back of the card, allowing them to immediately get the money that was loaded onto the card.

The FTC’s new toolkit for retailers includes:

  • Carousel or display rack signs. The toolkit includes downloadable signs to post where you sell gift cards. Some include an option to add your company logo. (The signs are available in English and Spanish.)
  • Cashier card. Laminate the double-sided cashier card and place it on the checkout counter to alert customers buying gift cards about how to spot a scam.
  • Bookmark. Place the bookmark at the checkout counter as a customer giveaway or distribute bookmarks in your community.
  • Sticker. Sized for your cash register, in a retail window, or on the checkout counter, the sticker reminds people to hang up on gift card scams.
  • Social media shareables. Alert consumers to gift card scams with visuals, article and a video ready for sharing through your company’s social media or your own.

According to the FTC, any time someone demands payment with a gift card, it’s a scam, and some retailers are taking steps to stop it. Walgreens, for example, created a webpage to advise consumers on how to recognize attempted scams, and Safeway is training employees how to recognize a customer who is being scammed.

“Even if you don’t see the sign, or maybe you don’t believe it, you get to the checkout stand and you’re buying a couple thousand dollars’ worth of gift cards, you can be assured that our employees will very professionally and kindly, politely ask you if you’d be willing to share why you got so many gift cards,” said David Montoya, director of asset protection for Safeway and Albertsons Denver division. “Of course, we’re looking for some telltale signs, like the customer being on the phone with someone when they buy these gift cards.”

Some other gift-card scams include:

  • Callers pretending to be with a utility company, telling the consumer to pay their bill by gift card to avoid their power or water being cut off.
  • Sellers on online auction sites asking for gift cards to “buy” big items like cars, motorcycles or boats.
  • Someone posing as a military service member who claims he or she must sell something quickly before deployment and the consumer should pay by gift card.
  • Callers who claim the consumer has won a so-called prize but must pay fees or other charges with a gift card.
  • Callers posing as a grandchild or other family member in an emergency and needing money for bail, health-care or another crisis.
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