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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Gift cards are a favorite for stuffing stockings, folding into a Christmas card, or gifting to a friend or loved one – but they’re also a favorite strategy for scammers.

It’s a common refrain around the holiday season: you get a phone call, and someone requests urgent payment – maybe they claim to be a tax collector, or say that you’ve won a prize but need to put some money down first, or “inform you” that a friend or family member is in trouble and urgently needs funds. And then they will ask you to purchase a gift card. They may even give you a specific store, or simply request a pre-paid Visa card – then they’ll request the gift card number and PIN.

Unlike a credit or debit card, gift cards are not insured, and the money you use to purchase them cannot be regained once the card has been spent. Fraudsters rely on this loophole – and prey on your hopes, worries, and fears – to cheat people out of thousands of dollars each year.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to foil scammers this holiday season.

Don’t Take that Call

If you receive a call from an unknown number that you are not expecting, don’t pick up. Try to only answer calls from friends and family members, or from callers you recognize, like a doctor’s office. But be aware that scammers can often manipulate caller ID to make it appear as though they are calling from a legitimate business or number – which is where the next step comes in.

Take a Breather

If someone calls and insists that you take immediate, urgent action – especially if that action requires sending money – hang up. An official representative, especially from the Internal Revenue Service or your local bank, will never pressure you to act or demand payment over the phone. Scammers will try to rile you up and try to get you to act first and think later. Don’t let them.

Refuse to Give Numbers

If someone requests a gift card number or pin, refuse. You should never give out any card number over the phone to someone you do not directly know – even a gift card number. Once someone has that information, they can access and spend the card’s balance, and you will lose that money.

Be Safe

Most importantly, be safe! The holidays are a time of joy, warmth, and family. By taking these steps, and being wary of unsolicited calls, you can celebrate in safety and happiness.

You can find out more about gift card scams and how to avoid them on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.