Fast money: Scammers target prepaid & gift cards
Scammers want money, and they want it fast. They want to get your money easily and make it nearly impossible for you to get it back.
With these simple concepts in mind, watch out for gift and prepaid card scams. Branded gift cards, such as iTunes cards, are being targeted as well as prepaid cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit, and Vanilla, which are general-purpose cards that consumers can “load up” and spend almost anywhere.
Some victims have lost thousands of dollars in these schemes, so it’s useful to be aware of how this fraud might play out. Here are two examples:* You see something online that you want to buy, and for payment, the seller (in fact a fraudster) convinces you to load money on to a gift card or prepaid card. You may even get a bogus email, for example from “Apple Pay” confirming what you owe. You share details of the card (e.g., code, PIN) with the fraudsters, who then drain its value. Needless to say you never receive what you paid for.
Sometimes scammers will talk victims through the process on the phone, instructing them to go to a retailer and purchase and load the gift card. They then ask for the 16-digit code on the back and drain the funds – and you’re left with a useless piece of plastic.* You get a threatening call or text about money you supposedly owe, for example from an “IRS official” (in fact a fraudster), and you’re persuaded that you need to make a payment immediately to avoid negative repercussions. Again, you’re asked to put money on a gift or prepaid card and to share the code and/or PIN, so that the scammers can steal your funds. You might also be asked for payment via wire transfer through services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Government agencies won’t ask you to use these payment methods. See the U.S. Treasury Department scam alert.
Scammers like gift cards because, unlike credit cards, payments can be hard to reverse, making the cards “cash-like.” They can try to sell stolen card codes on auction sites or elsewhere — a great way for them to quickly cash out some funds.
Here are two tips to help avoid these scams:
1. Use gift cards at the designated merchant. The FTC says, “If you’re not shopping at the iTunes store, you shouldn’t be paying with an iTunes gift card.” Here’s a very useful article about iTunes card fraud from fraud.org.
2. If you’re asked by a seller or a caller purporting to be a government official to load money on to a gift or prepaid card as payment and to share the card code/PIN details, don’t.
Also, don’t forget that if you’re ever targeted by a scam like this, report it to the FTC.