A new AARP survey has found that one in three adults has been the target of a gift card scam.
“Because I have a background in retail that has raised alarm bells,” Gail Roberts told I-Team. She said she stopped her husband from sending almost $400 in gift cards to a scammer. “This is what the Google Play Cards look like he bought four for $400.”
It all started when criminals convinced him to give them remote access to his computer. They ended up hijacking it. They told him to buy gift cards and send the gift card numbers in order to regain control of the computer.
“We know that over the last three or four years. Criminals have become much more successful at convincing people that they can use a gift card to pay off a debt they’ve incurred,” said Kathy Stokes, director fraud prevention programs at AARP. . This organization conducted a disturbing survey showing that 73 million Americans have recently been victims of fraud involving gift cards. The Federal Trade Commission said $233 million was lost in 2021; a sharp increase from the $125 million lost in 2020.
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“The scammer’s goal, we’ve learned, is to immediately get the person they’re contacting you into a heightened emotional state because they know if they can get you there. You really have a hard time access your logical thinking,” Stokes said.
Some of the other common scams include sending money via gift card to get so called lottery winnings. Or, the scammer may pose as a trusted member of the community who desperately needs money for a gift card.
“None of us would immediately think it’s a fraud. We’ll just try to be helpful. And so we buy these cards and the money is gone,” Stokes explained.
Roberts’ husband eventually regained access to his computer by going to a tech expert. She said she wants stores that sell third-party gift cards to do more.
“People who are at the point of sale need to be educated, when someone walks in and asks for hundreds of dollars of the same gift card or even a variety of gift cards, they should ask them if it’s a gift for anyone know you?” said Roberts.
Even though the money is still on the cards, the store won’t take them back, so she gives them away.
“A crook didn’t get the money and we’re going to make lemonade out of lemons,” Roberts said.
AARP and other consumer experts say the easiest way to avoid these elaborate scams is to remember never to pay anyone with a gift card.
AARP signs to watch out for: https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/gift-card-payment/
FTC Consumer Advice on Gift Card Scams: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/gift-card-scams
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