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Gift-giving season is upon us, with Father’s Day and graduations coming up, along with a cavalcade of weddings that had to be postponed due to the pandemic. One popular choice is gift cards — a business that is booming. According to AARP, the global consumer data firm Research and Markets project that "the U.S. gift card market will expand by nearly 10 percent to more than $170 billion in 2021.”
When it comes to special occasions, many will rely on giving the one gift that everyone loves — gift cards. Unfortunately, scams involving gift cards abound: The AARP released a survey in April 2021 that found nearly 1 in 3 adults (31 percent) said "they or someone they know had been asked at some point to purchase a gift card to pay a bill, fee or some other debt or obligation or to claim a prize." Here are some red flags you and your family should look out for to avoid gift card fraud:
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Check cards carefully
Buying gift cards in-store is one way to protect yourself from scams. But before you purchase one, make sure scam artists haven't gotten to it first. Examine the back of the cards carefully to make sure the PIN on the back has not been scratched off. Scammers will remove the protective layer, take a picture of the card — complete with the now-exposed pin — and return the gift card to the shelf.
Scammers then check the balances of the card on retailer’s websites to see if there are funds available. Once money appears on the card, it’s easy for them to either use the funds or transfer the money to another account.
Watch out for gift card email scams
You may also find yourself on the receiving end of a gift card scam, such as phony gift card email scams. Amazon warns its customers about email and text scams that claim you've been given an Amazon gift card. "Take steps to verify that it is from Amazon," suggests the retail giant, noting that scam artists may send phishing emails that include links designed to look like they're from Amazon when they're not.
Other email scams involving gift cards can appear to come from someone you know, such as your boss. According to UC Davis: "In a typical scam, an employee receives an email that pretends to be from their boss or another senior figure or person of authority. It asks them to buy gift cards and send them photos of the backs, for reasons that will supposedly be explained later." If you get such an offer via email, don’t click on any links — and mark it as spam.
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You should never have to give a gift card to get goods or services
Another gift card-related scam is when someone asks you to pay for goods or services with a gift card and will not accept any other form of payment. If it's not the same store that issued the gift card, it's likely a scam. A legitimate sale will never require you to only pay with a gift card. “The gift card request itself is the red flag,” Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs at AARP Fraud Watch Network, tells Yahoo Life. "Legitimate businesses ... do not accept payment by gift card [only]."
Stokes says that if you’re being asked to buy a specific gift card and "to load a specific dollar amount on it... and then read the numbers off the back to the person you are engaged with, it is a scam — full stop."
Take extra caution if someone calls you with a too-good-to-be-true deal in exchange for a payment in gift cards. “Someone might ask you to pay for something by putting money on a gift card... and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card,” a spokesperson for the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Consumer and Business Education tells Yahoo Life.
Be aware of people who call and ask if you would like to check the balance on your gift card; it’s always a scam. Once you give the criminals the card information, they drain the balance from the account. You can usually check the balance of the card by going to the issuer’s website and entering in your information there.
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