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Gift card scams: How to protect yourself

Gift Cards
Posted at 5:13 PM, Dec 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 17:13:13-05

Around the holidays, it’s easy to fall victim to a scam while shopping, paying for gifts, or waiting for packages.

“Scammers have become incredibly sophisticated in their attempts. They are getting more personal in their approach, they are doing their research online, learning more about who your friends and family members are so they can create a sense of fear and immediate action,” Jenny Grounds, the chief marketing officer of the Cybercrime Support Network, said.

The organization started Scam Spotter.

“Scam Spotter is a platform we developed to help educate consumers on the most prevalent scams that are happening right now,” Grounds said.

And right now, she said gift card scams top a lot of lists.

“We anticipate a 27 percent increase in gift card scams and that happens during the gift card season. That’s coupled with the supply chain shortage we are seeing as well,” she said.

The Federal Trade Commission said giving a scammer the PUN numbers off the back of a gift card is the number one way people report losing money. From 2018 to 2020, people reported losing a total of more than $245 million.

“It really felt like an out-of-body experience,” Alissa Okrent said.

She was a victim of a gift card scam.

“l read the text and recognized it said Amazon and, you know, there's been a fraudulent charge for a phone, an $800 phone," Okrent said.

She called the number provided and they told her to purchase some gift cards and stay on the phone while she did.

“It needed to be a gift card, and again, these were a lot of red flags in hindsight,” she explained. “I got a card, I gave them the number, took a picture and got home. At that point, my husband came in and was like, 'What's going on?' and we realized I’d been hacked.”

She lost $500, however, others in her community lost $17,000 or more from a similar scam.

“It really just does feel horrible to know that I was taken in that way,” Okrent said.

“The common scams you might see going around right now are grandparent-grandchild scams, where someone contacts you and says that your child or grandchild is in trouble, and you need to use gift cards to solve that problem. That is a scam,” Grounds said.

No matter the scam, cybersecurity expert Nathan Evans said there are some ways people can protect themselves.

“A big red flag would be if somebody asks you to pay in gift cards, don't do it,” Evans, an assistant teaching professor of computer science at the University of Denver, said.

He said scams are at their peak this time of year.

“You should always make sure to keep your computer up to date. You should install some type of antivirus software,” he said.

Okrent said after it happened to her, she wants to help others be more aware.

“Follow your intuition,” she said.

“These crimes are largely under-reported, so we encourage everyone to report if this happens to you,” Grounds said.