Gift Card Fraud

By Chandler Sullivan
April 4, 2024 | 5 Min. Read

Gift card fraud is a rising issue for people everywhere. Scammers use tricks like phishing and draining to take advantage of weaknesses in gift card systems to trick people. This leads to loss of money, stress, and extreme shame. Not to worry, there are often ways to report this scam and get your money back.

In this blog, we will discuss gift card scams, how to keep safe, and answer common questions revolving around gift card scams.

Gift card scams involve tricking individuals into purchasing gift cards and then providing scammers with the card details, typically through methods like phishing emails or deceptive phone calls. Once scammers obtain this information, they swiftly drain the funds from the gift card, leaving victims empty-handed.

Beware of gift card scams that usually begin with a call, text, email, or social media message. Scammers employ various tactics to persuade you to purchase gift cards, such as Google Play, Apple, or Amazon, and reveal the card number and PIN.

A common strategy scammers use is to create a sense of urgency, claiming that immediate payment is necessary to prevent a disastrous event. They may dictate the type and location of the gift card to purchase and might even accompany you on the phone while you buy and load the card at a specific store. They often suggest buying cards at multiple stores to avoid raising suspicion. Another tactic is to ask for the gift card number and PIN, which allows them access to the money loaded onto the card. Always slow down, do not pay, and never share card numbers or send a photo of the card. These are all signs of a scam.


Another gift card scam that has picked up speed recently during the holiday season is gift card draining from the source. As reported, “Gift card draining occurs when scammers obtain physical gift cards from stores. They manipulate these cards, using a device to read and save the number of a card that hasn’t been bought yet. Once the card is bought and activated, they use the stolen number to access the funds. Some scammers have tools to replace the silver strip that’s scratched off to redeem a card, while others opt for cards in envelopes to hide the fact they’ve been tampered with.”

With plenty of ways to scam people out of gift cards, it is important to know how to protect yourself or a loved one from being scammed.

Anyone can fall victim to a scammer’s clever ways, which is why it is important to be very careful about online or over-the-phone interactions.

  • Be Skeptical of Unsolicited Communications: Be cautious of unsolicited emails, texts, messages, or phone calls demanding urgent gift card purchases. Scammers often use high-pressure tactics to trick victims into making hasty decisions. If needed, contact a trusted family member or friend to help confirm the source.
  • Educate Yourself: Stay informed about common scam tactics and red flags associated with gift card scams. Awareness is key to identifying and avoiding potential threats.
  • Purchase Online Gift Cards: Buying an electronic gift card that you can directly send to someone’s personal phone or email is a safe and convenient way to buy gift cards without being at risk of scammers draining a physical card. Just make sure to never send these to an unverified or untrusted source.

If you fall victim to a gift card scam, you may wonder, what’s next? Can you dispute the fraudulent purchase? Can you get your money back? While credit card companies typically offer protections for unauthorized transactions, the process for disputing gift card purchases varies:

  • Report the scam to the gift card company right away
  • Tell the FTC at
  • Contact your bank to report fraud and dispute the money
  • If the scam is extensive or seems like it could end up dangerous, contact the authorities right away

If your gift card is stolen or used by someone else, act promptly to report the incident to the retailer or issuing company. Provide any relevant details, such as the card number and transaction history, to aid in the investigation. Depending on the circumstances, the gift card may be canceled and replaced, although outcomes vary based on the retailer’s policies and laws.

Disputing a gift card purchase can be more challenging compared to disputing a credit card transaction. However, if you believe the purchase was made fraudulently, immediately contact the retailer or gift card issuer to report the issue.

While tracing gift card scams can be difficult due to the anonymity of digital transactions and the sophistication of scammers, law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity experts employ various techniques to investigate such crimes. Digital forensics, cooperation with financial institutions, and collaboration with international partners may aid in tracing and apprehending perpetrators.

Yes, in many cases, gift cards can be canceled if stolen. Contact the retailer or gift card issuer as soon as possible to report the theft and request cancellation of the card. Depending on the retailer’s policies and applicable laws, the stolen card may be canceled and replaced with a new one.

When purchasing gift cards, here are some key ways to stay vigilant and safe from scammers:

  • Gift cards are for gifts. Not for payments. You should never buy a gift card because someone tells you to.
  • Stick to reputable retailers.
  • Opt for electronic gift cards instead of physical cards.
  • Avoid buying gift cards from unknown sources or unauthorized vendors, as these may be compromised or counterfeit.
  • Inspect the gift card before you buy it. Make sure all the protective stickers are attached and the card doesn’t appear to be tampered with. Ensure that the PIN on the back of the card is not visible. If you notice any issues with the card, select a different one and report the faulty card to a cashier or store manager.
  • Always keep a copy of your store receipt and a picture of the gift card. This will come in handy if you need to file a report with the gift card company or if you lose the gift card.

Remember, gift card scams can happen to anyone and are happening at an increasing rate! Educate yourself and your loved ones, and make sure to never give your gift card or personal information to anyone who asks. To learn more about gift card scams and where you can report specific scams, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Advice.

Additional resources for fraud and identity theft protection:

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