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Fraud Education

Gift Card Scams

If you ever receive a request from a business, government agency or individual requesting to be paid using a gift card — beware. Gift cards are only for gift-giving purposes so anyone who solicits them as payment is most likely trying to pull a fast one.

Like many forms of fraud, gift card theft has mushroomed. Estimates place American consumers’ gift card fraud losses at more than $430 million just in the past three years alone. Gift cards are an ideal theft vehicle because they’re widely available. Worse for consumers, they have next-to-no protections. They’re much like cash. Once you use the gift card — or pass along the card number and PIN to another — the money is gone.

How can you spot a gift card scam?

As with many popular scams, there are familiar storylines and scenarios that pop up when gift card thieves are on the other end of a transaction. They might say they are from the government or pretend to be a member of your family. Here are ways they’ll try to make what they’re asking for seem on the up and up:

  • Specifying which card or store they want you to buy from
  • Wanting to stay on the line with you while you’re buying or reloading cards
  • Instructing you to buy cards from multiple stores
  • Applying excessive urgency or pressure to act to prevent something bad from happening
  • Asking you to give them the gift card number and PIN, which they can use to access what’s on the card without having it in their possession
Gift cards are the preferred method of payment for scammers, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

What steps help stop gift card scams?

Being familiar with common gift card theft scenarios is one way to stay a step ahead of fraudsters. There are other ways you can help protect yourself, such as:

  • Inspecting gift card packaging before purchasing to ensure it hasn’t been tampered with.
  • Spending any gift cards you receive quickly to prevent someone else from stealing the funds off of them.
  • Registering a gift card you receive (if offered on the back of the card) which helps safeguard the funds until you can spend them

If you paid a scammer using a gift card, keep any receipts and contact the company immediately. Still not sure who to call? Report it to the FTC at