The Oregon Division of Financial Regulation is warning of gift cards scams that convince victims to use gift cards that are activated and loaded with cash as a form of payment.
Some of the scams involve asking for the gift card number and PIN code, which allows the scammer to get the cash balance on the card even though they do not physically have it, said division spokesperson Jason Horton.
Other gift-card scammers claim the situation is urgent and ask for immediate payment, saying something bad will happen, Horton said.
Another tactic: Asking a victim to buy a certain company’s gift card from a specific location. For example, they might say to buy an Apple gift card from Walmart.
In Oregon, imposter scams ranked first for the highest reported scam, accounting for 21% of the 38,703 fraud reports for 2022, Horton said.
The Federal Trade Commission found that about one in four people who report they lost money to a scam say they paid them with a gift card. The FCT has worked with retailers, asking them to post signs that warn if you have been asked to buy a gift card to make a payment, it is likely a scam.
Common holiday gift card scams
Here are some common holiday cons that scammers use, according to the Division of Financial Regulation:
- Scammers impersonating a government agency, a business or even a friend to swindle money. Government agencies will not contact you to demand immediate payment, “and they never demand payment by a gift card,” Horton said.
- Callers say they are tech support for a software company and then claim there’s something wrong with a device, ask for remote access and then demand payment to fix it.
- Scammers use “voice cloning” technology to impersonate a relative or friend, asking for money immediately but say not to tell anyone.
- Callers tell victims they won a prize and need to pay fees or other charges covered with a gift card.
- Scammers pretend to be romantically interested on a dating site and then trick victims into buying them a gift card to send them money.
- Scammers offer to buy something way over the asking price from a victim via an online banking system or check. The scammer asks you to deposit a check or accept the payment online and send the difference on a gift card. The payment bounces because the check is fake, and the victim is out of the gift card amount.
- Some websites offering to check your gift card’s balance are scams. They will ask for the gift card ID number and PIN code, then use the information to steal money off of the gift card, according to the Better Business Bureau.
- When buying a physical gift card, look for stickers covering the gift card’s barcode. The BBB warns consumers that scammers place fraudulent barcodes on real cards. The fake barcodes connect to a different gift card account which scammer controls, so when you scan the card and check out, you’ll add money to the scammer’s account rather than your own gift card.
How to avoid gift-card scams
- Don’t answer unknown numbers. Block unwanted calls and text messages.
- Don’t give personal identifying information to unsolicited callers, texts or emails. If you are not sure, hang up, look up their number and call them to verify.
- Be skeptical. Ask questions and be wary of offers that sound “too good to be true.”
- Resist the pressure to act immediately.
- Stop and talk to someone you trust. Talking about it can help you spot the scam.
- Never pay someone who insists you pay with a gift card, money transfer or cryptocurrency.
Who to contact if you think you’ve been scammed
Call the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation’s consumer advocates toll-free number, 888-877-4984 or email them at email@example.com.
The FTC says if you paid a scammer with a gift card, immediately tell the company that issued the card. Tell them the gift card was used in a scam and ask them to refund your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back, according to the FTC.
For questions, comments and news tips, email breaking news and public safety reporter Christian Willbern at firstname.lastname@example.org
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