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Gift Card Scams

Gift Card Scams Are Everywhere — and Elderly People Aren't the Only Victims

Article by: Malika Mitra at

When you hear "gift card scam," you might have an image of a victim in mind. But with millions of Americans out of work, and desperate to make ends meet, more and more people are getting swindled by even the most rudimentary scams.

Scammers are most effective when people are scared and emotionally vulnerable, says Emma Fletcher, a program analyst at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Enter COVID-19. From fake virus treatments to phony government texts, fraudsters have learned to tap our heightened fears.

Gift card scammers are particularly active these days. In 2020 alone, there have been nearly 28,000 reports of "gift and reload card frauds" — like when a scammer asks someone to buy a gift card from CVS, Target, or other major retailer and share the code on the back — resulting in a loss of almost $80 million, according to the FTC. That's 60% more than were reported in 2016.

And they're fooling people of all ages.

Scams in the time of COVID-19

Gift cards are popular among scammers because it’s easy to cash them in or sell them on websites like eBay or Craigslist. They’re also virtually untraceable.

These scams often target the elderly — an FTC report found that gift card fraudsters swindled more people over the age of 60 in 2019 than scammers using any other payment method — but older Americans aren't the only victims.

The coronavirus pandemic has given scammers even more ammunition. They're taking advantage of kindness: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has received reports of scammers soliciting donations for people supposedly impacted by the virus. 

COVID-19 also provides scammers with a convenient excuse as to why you can't actually meet the person asking for your money.

“The pandemic has given scammers opportunities to weave little COVID mentions into the stories they use to trick people,” the FTC's Fletcher says.

How to protect yourself and your loved ones

Here's the bottom line: If someone is asking you to pay for something with a gift card, even if they have all sorts of excuses as to why it's legitimate, you're almost certainly getting scammed.

That can be hard to remember when a scammer lies to you and says that someone you love is in trouble, or you owe money to the government. If, despite your best judgment, you do fall victim to one of these scams, contact the store where you purchased the card, or the card issuer, immediately. (The FTC has a list of gift cards most commonly used by scammers, like Amazon, eBay, and Google Play, as well as contact information for each brand.)

If you ever have any questions, you can also contact a team member at Community State Bank and we'll be happy to help.