Gift Card Scams: What To Watch Out For

Gift card scams are attractive to bad players because they are hard to trace and easy to buy. However, if you know what to look out for and how to prevent these scams, you won't be the next victim.
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Gift cards are easy to buy, you can use them at your favorite stores, and they can be sent anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, that also means gift cards are an easy tool for scammers to use. Some popular gift card scams include directing people to fake card balance websites, reselling phony cards, and even tampering with physical gift cards.

We’ll cover the most common gift card scams, what to do if you’re a victim of these scams, and tips to protect yourself (including identity theft protection).

In this article
6 gift card scams to watch out for
What to do if you fall victim to a gift card scam
How to protect yourself from gift card scams
Gift card scams FAQs
Bottom line

6 gift card scams to watch out for

Scammers can trick you with gift cards in several ways. They might provide a fake website where users can check gift card balances, pretend to give legitimate information about a gift card over the phone or in an email, or tamper with physical gift cards in stores.

Here are six of the most common scams using gift cards.

Imposter scams

An imposter scam is when scammers pretend to be a family member, friend, colleague, or someone else you know and ask you to buy them a gift card. Often, they’ll say they have an emergency and demand payment in the form of a gift card right away. Some scammers may even use a text-number-changing app or voice-cloning app to sound like someone you know.

If someone reaches out to you like this, remember to always directly contact the person they’re claiming to be to confirm whether it’s really them.

Another type of imposter scam uses dating apps and sites. Scammers will use fake dating profiles, chat with you, then make up a story to trick you into buying a gift card to send them money. Never send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person, even if they say they’ll repay you.

Fake gift card websites

Most gift card companies have sites where you can check your balance. However, you should be careful of phishing websites set up by scammers to steal your gift card number and PIN to use themselves.

Make sure to verify the URL of the gift card website before typing in anything, including the gift card number, PIN, or any personal information. The official site is most often found on the gift card itself.

Sometimes, there’s a phone number you can call to check your balance as well. Don’t rely on an internet search to lead you to a gift card website, as it could be a fake.

Overpayment scams

Scammers pretending to represent a company might refund a purchase you made, say they accidentally overpaid you, then request you return the money in the form of gift cards.

For example, a scammer can reach out and say there’s been suspicious activity on your Target account but not to worry — you’ve been refunded. But oops, they’ve actually refunded you $10,000 instead of $1,000. Could you send them back the difference in Target gift cards and read them the number on the back?

This is fraud. Don’t send anyone money if they claim to have overcharged you. Hang up and contact the company directly using their official channels to discuss and report the incident.

Gift card tampering

Gift cards on store shelves may have been tampered with before you’ve even purchased them. Scammers can apply a fake barcode to the back of gift cards in stores. That way, when the card is activated by the cashier, they’ll receive the money instead of you.

Scammers also scratch off the material covering the card’s number and PIN, cover it with their own stickers, and steal the number. Then, when you activate the gift card, the scammer can spend your hard-earned money themselves.

It’s important to thoroughly inspect all physical gift cards before you buy them. Make sure the packaging isn't torn or otherwise tampered with and run your finger over the barcode to feel if there’s a sticker or other signs of tampering. Also, confirm the balance and hold on to the store receipt in case you need to report anything suspicious.

Bogus giveaways

If a scammer tells you that you’ve won a great prize in a giveaway or sweepstakes but you need to pay for fees or taxes upfront with a gift card, it’s a scam. A good rule of thumb is you should never have to pay to win a giveaway or contest — this is illegal in the U.S.

You should also be wary of what prize they’re claiming you won. Do you remember even entering a giveaway for a cruise or for $10,000? If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Never send gift cards to strangers in hopes of getting something for nothing.

Gift card resale scams

If someone is selling a gift card for a discount, sometimes it’s legitimate but a lot of times it’s a scam. And if someone posts a gift card for a significantly reduced price, it’s often a fake gift card.

Another version of this is when scammers request you contact the merchant to prove the balance is on the card. Then, they activate an automated line that instructs you to input the card’s number and PIN so they can steal it.

If you’re buying a gift card online for a discounted price, verify the balance yourself by contacting the gift card’s company directly.

What to do if you fall victim to a gift card scam

If you’ve fallen victim to a gift card scam, here are some steps you can take to lessen the consequences:

  • Don’t throw away the store receipt or the physical gift card.
  • Report the gift card scam to its company as soon as possible. You can look up the customer service number of the brand of gift card online, and oftentimes they have their own scam or fraud reporting pages. Sometimes, they’ll give you some or all the money back, especially if the gift card hasn’t been used by the scammer yet. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
  • You can also report gift card scams to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
  • Contact your bank to tell them you’ve been a victim of fraud.
  • File a police report with your local law enforcement to help get your money back.
  • Consider signing up for identity theft protection and credit monitoring.

How to protect yourself from gift card scams

It’s totally possible to purchase gift cards without getting scammed if you know the warning signs. They’re a great gift for friends and family, and that’s what they should be: gifts only. Never use them to pay a company or reimburse somebody.

Here are some ways to protect yourself from gift card scams:

  • Inspect physical cards before you buy them to ensure there’s been no tampering.
  • Never use a gift card for reimbursement.
  • Contact companies directly. Don’t trust others to contact them for you.
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know and have never met.
  • Contact your loved one directly using a different method if they’re requesting gift cards.
  • Always double-check the website you’re using to verify your balance.
  • Never give away any personally identifiable information.

Best identity theft protection for gift card scams

If you’ve fallen victim to a gift card scam or want to be cautious about protecting your identity in the future, then identity theft protection can help. Here are some recommendations for identity theft protection services:

  • Aura: Aura offers protection for families with different packages ranging from $12.00–$50.00/mo. It provides up to $1 million per adult in identity theft insurance, credit monitoring and reports, financial fraud protection, dark web alerts, and more.

    Get Aura | Read Our Aura Review

  • LifeLock: LifeLock by Norton is an extensive identity theft protection service. It provides up to $3 million in coverage and multiple monitoring features including dark web, home title, social media, and more.

    Get LifeLock | Read Our LifeLock Review

  • Identity Guard: Identity Guard offers a ton of identity-protecting features like credit reports and monitoring, dark web alerts, social media alerts, a password manager, up to $1 million in identity theft insurance, and more.

    Get Identity Guard | Read Our Identity Guard Review

4.9
Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Aura Identity Theft's website
Aura Identity Theft
  • Excellent identity theft protection service
  • Includes a password manager and VPN
  • Robust tools for children’s security
  • Provides VantageScore and not FICO score updates

Gift card scams FAQs


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What are some gift card scams?

Some gift card scams include bad actors pretending to be your family member in a crisis, tampering with gift cards in store, people on dating apps asking for gifts, creating fake websites to check your balance while stealing your gift card numbers, asking to be reimbursed via gift cards, and more.

It’s important that you remember to always do your due diligence before sending anyone a gift card. Never reimburse someone with a gift card, even if they promise you a ton of money back. Don’t send money to people you’ve never met and be careful what websites you use to check your balance. If someone is claiming to be a friend or family member in crisis, always contact them another way before sending them anything.


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Can you get your money back if you get gift card scammed?

Sometimes you can get your money back from a gift card scam, but sometimes not. It depends on the way you got scammed, whether the scammer has spent the gift card money yet, and where the gift card is from.

The best thing to do to maximize your chances at getting your money back are to file a police report, alert the gift card company right away, and alert your bank that you were the victim of a scam.


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What if I bought a gift card and got scammed?

You can report your scam to the gift card company, the FTC, and local police enforcement. You can also tell your bank you were a victim of a scam.

Bottom line

You can avoid falling victim to gift card scams if you know the red flags. Make sure you don’t send gift cards to anyone you haven’t met or without confirming their identity (if it’s a scammer pretending to be someone you know).

Also, make sure to inspect gift cards in store to make sure they weren’t tampered with, never send gift cards as forms of reimbursement, and be extra careful when buying gift cards online. 

You can also use identity theft protection to monitor for any suspicious activity and for your own peace of mind. 

4.9
Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Aura Identity Theft's website
Aura Identity Theft
  • Excellent identity theft protection service
  • Includes a password manager and VPN
  • Robust tools for children’s security
  • Provides VantageScore and not FICO score updates

Author Details
Waverly Colville is a Brooklyn-based journalist and producer. She holds a B.J. in Investigative Journalism and a B.A. in International Peace Studies from the University of Missouri.