The BBB reports consumers lose an average of $700 in the pre-paid scam.
One woman is out thousands of dollars after losing her money in a pre-paid scam.
She says it started when she received an email about a recent online purchase stating she had ordered a TV and video gaming equipment through Amazon. She says she had not bought anything like this and clicked on the link in the email to file a claim.
Shortly after, she received a phone call from someone claiming to be Amazon telling her that her account was hacked and that the company would refund her $400.
The imposter had her log on to an electronic banking website and enter her account information to receive the money back.
“He goes, ‘Oh no, it looks like there was a mistake. We just refunded you $4,000, not $400,’” remembered Grove. “And I was like ‘Oh, that’s not cool. That means I owe you $3,600.”
After trying a few options online to send the money back, she was told she could reimburse the overpayment by purchasing Apple Gift Cards.
She bought $500 worth of gift cards and sent him the corresponding information.
Every time I did that, there was some sort of mistake like it didn’t go through or it was blocked by their software. I kept going back to the store and getting more and more of these gift cards to fix the problem.”
-WMTV, Gabriella Rusk
Gift Card Scams
Someone might ask you to pay for something by putting money on a gift card, like a Google Play or iTunes card, and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card. If they ask you to do this, they’re trying to scam you. No real business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer.
What is a Gift Card Scam
Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. As soon as someone tells you to pay them with a gift card, that’s a scam. Gift cards are popular with scammers because they’re easy for people to find and buy. They also have fewer protections for buyers compared to some other payment options. They’re more like cash: once you use a gift card, the money on it is gone.
If someone calls and asks that you pay them with gift cards, that’s a scammer calling. And once they have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money.
Scammers may tell you different stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this is what usually happens:
- The caller says it’s urgent. They say you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen. They want to scare or pressure you into acting quickly, so you don’t have time to think or talk to someone you trust. Don’t pay. It’s a scam.
- The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift card. They might send you to a specific store — often Walmart, Target, CVS, or Walgreens. Sometimes they tell you to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious. And the caller might stay on the phone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. If this happens to you, stop. It’s a scam.
- The caller asks you for the gift card number and PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. Don’t give them those numbers. It’s a scam. You’ll lose your money, and you won’t be able to get it back.
Spot the Scam
Only scammers try to convince you to pay with gift cards. If you know how to spot their tactics, you’ll be able to avoid the scam, and help others spot and avoid it. Here’s a list of common gift card scams and schemes:
- The caller says they’re from the government — maybe the IRS or the Social Security Administration. They say you have to pay taxes or a fine. It’s a scam.
- Someone calls from tech support, maybe saying they’re from Apple or Microsoft. They say there’s something wrong with your computer and you have to pay them to get it fixed. But it’s a lie.
- You meet someone special on a dating website, but then they need money and ask you to help them. This romance scammer makes up any story to trick you into sending them gift cards. Stop. Never send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person — even if they send you money first.
- The scammer pretends to be a friend or family member in an emergency and asks you to send money right away — but not tell anyone. This is a scam. If you’re worried, hang up and call the friend or relative to check that everything is all right.
- Someone says you’ve won a prize, but first, you have to pay fees or other charges with a gift card. Remember: no honest business or agency will ever make you pay with a gift card. But also — did you even enter that sweepstakes?
- The caller says they’re from your power company, or another utility company. They threaten to cut off your service if you don’t pay immediately. But utility companies don’t work that way. It’s a scam.
- You get a check from someone for way more than you expected. They tell you to deposit the check, then give them the difference on a gift card. Don’t do it. That check will be fake, and you’ll be out all that money.
From Federal Trade Commission, consumer.ftc.gov