Gift Cards Are for Giving, Not Making Payments

posted on Thursday, February 23, 2023 in SHAZAM Blog

Gift cards are a popular and convenient way to give someone you care about a gift they can use to buy whatever they want. Scammers know this too and steal money from cards before the intended recipient gets a chance to use it.  

Additionally, your favorite gift may be unwrapped by criminals who also want you to pay them with gift cards. A 2022 AARP survey found over 70 million U.S. adults have experienced one of these forms of gift card fraud. Here’s how to spot their tactics to make sure your gift card is used how you intended it.  

Spotting the Scam 

Scammers are looking to use your emotions against you. They use social engineering tricks to cloud your better judgment and trick you into getting what they want.  

Criminals may call, email or text message you claiming you owe them money and demand payment be made through a gift card. Scammers demand payment in this form knowing it’s difficult to trace and can use the cards like cash. This can range from unpaid taxes to utility bills. They may even threaten to arrest you or turn off your services unless you pay them at once.  

People who work for government agencies or utility companies don’t contact you this way. Instead, they will give you multiple notices before and after a payment due date. Also, they won’t accept gift cards as a form of payment.  

Criminals may also contact you claiming to be a family member, friend or someone you met online. In each case, they’ll claim they need you to send money or gift cards right away to help them out through tough times, for an investment opportunity or claim it’s an emergency. 

Be suspicious of anyone you haven’t met in person asking you to send money or gift cards. If you’re worried about someone you know, call the person directly or someone they’re related to, on a known number to make sure they're safe.  

What To Look For When Buying Gift Cards 

Look at the back of the gift card before you buy it. Cards have a protective strip covering up the pin number. If that protective strip is tampered with, don't buy it. 

It's possible a scammer already has those numbers. As soon as you purchase or put money on the card, a thief could use the gift card balance before the person you're buying it for can. 

Some scammers are printing fake barcodes on stickers to cover up gift cards barcodes on the sale rack. Once purchased, your money goes to the gift card the scammers already have. To prevent making your gift card worthless, slide your finger across the back to feel if there’s a raised bump of a sticker on top of the legit barcode. 

What To Do if You Paid a Scammer With Gift Cards 

If you paid a scammer with a gift card or find out that a card you bought was misused, contact the company who issued the card.  

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a list of contact information for some popular gift card companies. The government agency also has a website to report fraud, scams and bad business practices. 

Please share the information in this blog with family members, employees and accountholders to make sure their money is used as planned. For related information on protecting your money and personal information, follow SHAZAM on LinkedIn and Facebook.  We'll be posting biweekly on Friday on how to spot and stop scams using the hashtag #FraudFriday.


Federal Trade Commission

SHAZAM, Inc. and ITS, Inc. provide this blog for general informational purposes only. Our blog may be shared by a direct link wherein the content remains as originally presented and has not been altered. SHAZAM, Inc. and ITS, Inc. assume no responsibility for errors or omissions in the contents on the blog. By using this blog, reader agrees that the information published does not constitute nor is a substitute for legal advice which should only be sought from a qualified, licensed attorney. 


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