It’s common to hear stories about various financial scams and assume that they would never happen to you. But unfortunately, there’s a fair chance that at some point you could fall victim to a scam, and a common one is a gift card scam.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers reported 48,800 cases of gift card or reload card fraud totaling more than $228 million in losses in 2022. There are more reports of fraud by gift cards than payment methods like bank transfers or payments, wire transfers, cash, check and money orders.
Below, CNBC Select walks through some of the most common types of gift card scams, how to identify them and how to get your money back if you’ve been scammed.
There are many different types of gift card scams. For example, you might be tricked into purchasing a gift card with a zero balance or you might have your card number compromised.
One of the most common types of gift card scams is when a scammer contacts a victim about an urgent situation and tricks them into buying gift cards and sharing the card details to resolve it. Oftentimes, the scammers impersonate authority figures, relatives or service providers, and say that you need to pay them immediately or something bad will happen.
Here are a few examples of this type of gift scam:
- Scammers pretend to be from a government organization, such as the IRS or the Social Security Administration, and claim you owe money or else you’ll be arrested.
- Scammers might pose as a family member or close friend and claim that they are in an emergency and need some money.
- Scammers will contact you and say that you’ve won a prize, often a large sum of money or a vacation, but tell you to pay a fee to claim it.
- Scammers may pretend to be tech support from a large company and will say they can fix your computer if you pay them in gift cards.
- Scammers say that they’re from your utility company and threaten to cut off service if you don’t pay them.
The scammers will tell the victims what kind of card to purchase and then have them share the numbers and PINs off the back of the cards. With the card details, the scammers can then immediately drain the money loaded on the cards.
While scammers will always try to create a sense of urgency, if you receive a similar message, take a deep breath and think about how you can verify the situation, such as calling the family member they claim to be.
Your first line of defense to avoid gift card scams should be to keep a keen eye out for any unsolicited texts, emails, messages on social media and calls from people you don’t know, especially if they are offering something that is likely too good to be true.
You should also be innately skeptical of anyone who requests gift cards as a form of payment. In reality, no reputable business or government agency will ever instruct you to buy a gift card to pay them. Similarly, no sweepstakes will ever require you to pay a fee to claim your prize, especially if you never entered the giveaway in the first place.
Additionally, be careful of where you’re putting your information out into the world. Social media and other websites are often not the places to be sharing any sensitive materials. Even simple details like your email or phone number being widely available can lead to scammers attempting to gain access to your accounts or trick you directly.
Gift cards generally act like cash, making it difficult to recover money sent in a gift card scam. However, the faster you react the better.
According to the FTC, some gift card companies are flagging fraudulent transactions and freezing stolen gift card money, so it recommends a few steps if you’ve been scammed:
- Report it to the gift card company. Contact the gift card company directly and be prepared to share proof of purchase or the numbers on the back of the card to verify your situation.
- Request your money back. When in contact with the gift card company, ask for your money to be returned. This is often on an individual basis, but if the money was frozen or not yet accessed by the scammer they might be able to give you your money back. Some gift card companies offer protections that keep you safe from unauthorized transactions.
- Report it to the FTC. Your report can help provide the FTC with more information and allow them to better assist others in the future.
If you purchased the gift card using a credit card, you may be covered by additional protections, such as $0 fraud liability (note that gift cards generally aren’t eligible for purchase protection). However, even if you don’t have this benefit, your card issuer might still have your back.
For example, while the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card does offer $0 fraud liability, if you’ve fallen victim to a financial scam, Capital One recommends you either call them at 1-800-227-4825 or email [email protected] to allow them to investigate
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Information about the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, up to 6 months of complimentary Uber One membership statement credits through 11/14/2024
Balance transfer fee
$0 at the Transfer APR, 3% of the amount of each transferred balance that posts to your account at a promotional APR that Capital One may offer to you
Foreign transaction fee
Average, Fair, or Limited
Most major credit card issuers offer zero fraud liability across their cards, from no annual fee cards like the Citi Double Cash® Card to premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, but the terms and conditions of this protection don’t specifically mention gift card scams so they may not always be covered.
If you are aiming to get your money back not just onto a gift card you purchased but to your credit card statement, reaching out to your card issuer directly is typically still the best course of action as each card issuer might handle the situation differently.
Find the best credit card for you by reviewing offers in our credit card marketplace or get personalized offers via CardMatch™.
While nobody aims to fall victim to a financial scam, the truth is that sometimes it just happens. Arming yourself with some of the common signs of a scam can help you avoid them altogether. Should you happen to get caught in a scam, the faster you report the issues the more likely you’ll be able to get the situation resolved.
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At CNBC Select, our mission is to provide our readers with high-quality service journalism and comprehensive consumer advice so they can make informed decisions with their money. Every article is based on rigorous reporting by our team of expert writers and editors with extensive knowledge of financial products. While CNBC Select earns a commission from affiliate partners on many offers and links, we create all our content without input from our commercial team or any outside third parties, and we pride ourselves on our journalistic standards and ethics.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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