Gift Card Scams

Every year, thousands of Canadians are scammed out of millions of dollars through various scams.  Many of these scams are carried out over the telephone, through e-mail, and through text messages.

You might receive a telephone call from someone you don’t know, claiming to be from a Government agency who states that you have an outstanding debt and owe money.  They may also say that you are in some sort of trouble or that a warrant has been issued for your arrest and to avoid going to jail you must pay immediately.   They may demand payment by having you go to the store and purchase gift cards or prepaid credit cards and giving them the PIN and the verification numbers on the back of the card.

No real business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer.

What is a Gift Card Scam

You will know that it is a scam the moment that someone tells you to pay them with a gift card that is not for purchases from their company.  Remember, gift cards are for gifts, not for payments.

Gift cards are popular with scammers because they’re sold at many retail locations and are easy for people to find and buy. There are almost no protections for buyers compared to some other payment options, and once you use a gift card, or in this case, give the PIN and verification numbers to someone else, the money on it is gone.  Once they have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money.

If someone calls and asks that you pay them with gift cards, that’s a scammer calling.

Scammers may tell you different stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this is what usually happens:

  1. The caller says that the matter is urgent. They say you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen or you will be arrested.

They want to scare or pressure you into acting quickly, so you don’t have time to think or talk to someone you trust.

If this happens to you, STOP.  Don’t pay.  HANG UP. IT’S A SCAM.

  1. The caller usually tells you which gift card(s) to buy such as Steam, Google Play, Itunes, Apple, etc… They might send you to a specific store, such as Walmart, Shoppers Drugs, Circle K, or a local grocery store that sells gift cards. Sometimes they tell you to buy cards at several different stores so cashiers won’t get suspicious. They may insist that you stay on the phone with them while you go to the store to buy the gift cards.

If this happens to you, STOP.  HANG UP. IT’S A SCAM.

  1. The caller will ask you for the gift card number and PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. Once you give them the card number and PIN, your money is gone and you won’t be able to get it back.

If this happens to you, STOP. Don’t give them those numbers. IT’S A SCAM.

How Can You Spot the Scam

Only scammers try to convince you to pay with gift cards. Remember, no legitimate business or Government agency will demand any type of payment by way of a gift card.

If you know how to spot their tactics, you’ll be able to avoid the scam and help others spot and avoid it. Here’s a list of common gift card scams and schemes:

  • CRA Scam or CBSA Scam. The caller says they’re from the government — such as the Canada Revenue Agency or Canada Border Services Agency. They say you have to pay taxes or a fine. IT’S A SCAM.
  • Tech Support Scam. Someone calls from tech support, maybe saying they’re from Apple or Microsoft. You may also get a pop-up on your computer telling you that there is a virus in your computer with a number to call to fix it. They say there’s something wrong with your computer and you have to pay them to get it fixed. But it’s a lie.  They will ask you for remote access to your computer and will install viruses in your computer that can allow them access to sensitive information about you, including passwords and banking info all while charging you a fee to “fix” your computer.  IT’S A SCAM.
  • Romance Scam – You meet someone special on a dating website, but then they need money and ask you to help them. This scammer makes up any story to trick you into sending them money or gift cards. STOP. Never send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person, even if they send you money first.  IT’S A SCAM.
  • Emergency Scam – The scammer calls and pretends to be a friend or family member in an emergency and asks you to send money right away and tells you not tell anyone. Hang up and call the friend or relative to check that everything is all right.  IT’S A SCAM.
  • Lottery, Prize, or Sweepstakes Scam. You receive a phone call, text or e-mail saying that you’ve won a prize, but first, you have to pay fees or other charges by sending money or by paying with a gift card. Remember: no legitimate business or agency will ever make you pay with a gift card and NEVER send money to anyone you don’t know and trust. You also should question if you even entered that lottery or sweepstakes.  IT’S A SCAM.
  • Utility Company Scam. The caller says they’re from your hydro company or another utility company. They may threaten to cut off your service if you don’t pay immediately. They may also try to convince you to sign up for services through misleading tactics.  Always read the fine print before agreeing to anything.  If you are being pressured to pay immediately, hang up and contact your utility company directly to make sure.  Legitimate utility companies don’t work that way. IT’S A SCAM.
  • Overpayment Scam. You sell something and get a check from someone for way more than you expected. They tell you to deposit the check, then give them the difference by wiring, e-transferring the money, or by way of a gift card. Don’t do it. That cheque they gave you will be fake or stolen and you’ll be out all that money.  IT’S A SCAM.

What To Do If You Paid a Scammer with Gift Cards

If you paid a scammer with a gift card, tell the company that issued the card right away. Keep the card and any receipts you have.

Contact information for some gift card companies

Amazon

  • Call 1 (888) 280-4331 and follow the instructions provided.
  • Keep the Amazon card itself and your receipt for the Amazon card.
  • Learn about Amazon gift card scams and how to report them. Once on their webpage, click on “Contact us” to report the scam.

eBay

Google Play

iTunes

  • Contact Apple Support right away online.  Once you get to the web page, select the method that you would like to communicate with them, presumably by telephone.  Select the by phone button and a representative will call you within a specified amount of time.
  • Ask if the money is still on the iTunes card. If so, Apple can put a freeze on it. You might be able to get your money back from them.
  • Keep the iTunes card itself and your receipt for the iTunes card.
  • Learn about iTunes gift card scams and how to report them.

Steam

Best Buy

  • Call 1 (888) 237-8289 and follow Best Buy’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Best Buy gift card or your store receipt.
  • Visit Best Buy’s website to learn about scams.

Sephora

  • Call 1 (877) 737-4672 and follow Sephora’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Sephora gift card or your store receipt.
  • Visit Sephora’s website to learn about scams.

Vanilla

  • Call 1 (833) 322-6760 and follow Vanilla’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Vanilla card or your store receipt.

Visa

  • Call 1 (800) 847-2911 and follow Visa’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Visa gift card or your store receipt.
  • Visit Visa’s website to learn about scams.

Walmart

  • Call 1 (888) 537-5503 and follow Walmart’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Walmart gift card or your store receipt.
  • Visit Walmart’s website to learn about scams.

Don’t see your card on this list? Look for the company’s contact information on the card itself, or do some research online to find out how to reach the card issuer.

Report Fraud

If someone asks you to pay them with gift cards:

  • Report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre online or call 1-888-495-8501.
  • Report it even if you didn’t pay. Your report helps law enforcement stop scams.
  • If you’ve lost money, report it to your local police service.