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How do gift card scams work?

By far the most common scams involving gift cards is a type of impersonation scam and the goal of the scammer is to get the victim to buy a gift card and then give the scammer the card details on the back of the card:

  1. Initial Contact: The scammer calls or emails the potential victim, often claiming to be from a well-known company, government agency, or even a familiar individual (like a CEO or manager, if it's a workplace scam).
  2. Creating Urgency: The scammer often uses tactics to create a sense of urgency, making the victim believe that immediate action is required. This can include claims of unpaid bills, IT services that need payment, rewards for employees, etc. Sometimes the Scammer will convince the victim to download a remote-access program onto their computer and then trick the victim into thinking that too much money has been refunded to someone’s account.
  3. Directing to Gift Cards: The scammer instructs the victim to buy gift cards, often from popular retailers. They might specify a particular amount or type of card. Sometimes scammers might tell you to purchase gift cards from multiple stores, so the checkout staff don’t get suspicious. If someone wants you to stay on the line while purchasing the gift cards, this is a tell-tale sign of a scam and you should hang up and not proceed.
  4. Getting the Details: Once the victim has purchased the gift cards, the scammer asks for the card numbers and PINs over the phone. They might provide reasons like using the details to verify the purchase, make a payment, or reward employees.
  5. Using or Selling the Details: After obtaining the gift card numbers and PINs, the scammer can either use them to make purchases or sell them on the black market for cash.

How to avoid becoming a victim

Remember, gift cards are for gifts.  The scammer wants to push you into acting without thinking by pretending to be someone in authority and creating an atmosphere of urgency. 

If you receive emails or telephone call where you are asked to buy gift cards, you are being scammed!

Even if an email seems to have been sent by a senior colleague or if a telephone call seems to be a business (e.g. a computer support company, bank, etc.) or government agency, you are being scammed. 

If you have already bought the gift cards, do not provide the card details to the scammer. 

What to do if you've been part of a gift card scam

It is highly likely that once you've been a victim of a gift card scam that you won't be able to recoup the funds.  Scammers act very quickly.

Call the gift card provider immediately.

The company can then add the scammer to a registry of known gift card scammer numbers, and they may be able to compensate you. Keep the card and the receipt handy, if you still have them.

If you have been a victim to gift card fraud, please get in touch with the Isle of Man Constabulary by calling 631212.  Please also report any scam that you come across, not just gift card scams, on our Cyber Concerns Online Reporting Form.  Reporting scams helps everyone to avoid fraud.

Gift Card Downloadable Infographic


Page last reviewed - 23/04/2024.