The Federal Trade Commission says that in the first nine months of 2021, consumers reported losing $148 million in scams where gift cards were used as the form of payment. That amount is more than was reported in all of 2020.
Nearly 40,000 consumers reported using gift cards to pay a scammer in that time frame, according to the spotlight, which draws from fraud reports submitted to the FTC by consumers. Most often, consumers reported paying scammers who were impersonating large companies or government agencies.
One new development noted in the spotlight is the emergence of Target gift cards as the most popular choice for scammers in the reports received by the FTC. Target gift cards accounted for about $35 million in payments to scammers, more than twice as much as any other brand of gift cards. The median amount lost when consumers paid with Target gift cards, $2,500, was higher than any other brand of card, with nearly a third reporting losses of $5,000 or more.
Scammers also instructed consumers to purchase gift cards—regardless of the brand of card—from a Target store more often than any other location, according to the spotlight.
Since 2018, both the numbers of consumers filing reports in which gift cards were the form of payment to scammers and the amount they have reported lost have increased steadily. The spotlight also notes that consumers’ median reported loss to scammers when they pay with gift cards has increased from $700 to $1000.
Here is some more information from the FTC website:
What gift card scam looks like
Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. But they’re popular with scammers because they’re easy for people to find and buy, and they have fewer protections for buyers compared to some other payment options. They’re more like cash: once you use the card, the money on it is gone. Scammers like this.
If someone calls you and demands that you pay them with gift cards, you can bet that a scammer is behind that call. Once they have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money. Scammers may tell you many stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this is what usually happens:
- The caller says it’s urgent. The scammer says you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen. But you don’t, and it won’t.
- 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 say 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. These are all signs of 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. And the scammer gets it right away.
The FTC has resources for consumers, including information on how to contact gift card companies to try to stop payments to scammers at ftc.gov/giftcards. The agency also has information for gift card retailers, including materials that can be posted in stores and used to train employees at ftc.gov/StopGiftCardScams.