4 Min Read | June 14, 2021

Protecting Yourself from Gift Card Scams

Knowing the types of gift card scams and tips to avoid them can help keep you safe from this increasingly common form of fraud.

Gift Card Scams

This article contains general information and is not intended to provide information that is specific to American Express products and services. Similar products and services offered by different companies will have different features and you should always read about product details before acquiring any financial product.


Gift card scams are a common type of crime that aims to trick people into buying gift cards and revealing their codes so that scammers can steal money from the cards.

Basic precautions can help you to spot many gift card scams and take steps to avoid them.

As a Card Member, your protection is American Express’ utmost concern. Gift card scams have been on the rise in recent years. The following tips and resources can help you keep safe from possible future scams.

Why Gift Card Scams?

Gift Cards are a popular form of payment requested by scammers, so it’s worth being extra careful if someone you don’t know offers to pay you for buying a gift card in any context. Scammers use different tactics to get victims to fall for their schemes. In some cases, they can be friendly, sympathetic and seem willing to help. In others, they use fear tactics to persuade a victim. Typically, scammers disguise themselves as a reputable company or family member and request payment in the form of gift cards.

Important: Neither the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) nor any other government agency will ever request payment over the phone in the form of a gift card. These agencies have said so in their own warnings against scammers.

Tips to Avoid Gift Card Scams

Being aware of the following facts and ways of dealing with possible fraudulent situations can help you avoid falling for a gift card scam:

  • Legitimate sales and transactions shouldn’t require you to pay specifically with a gift card.
  • It’s not a good idea to share a gift card number or PIN over the phone or online unless you’re interacting with someone you know well and trust.
  • Don’t always trust caller ID. Scammers can manipulate a caller ID to look like a legitimate company or government agency. 
  • Don’t give out personally identifiable information unless you’re certain the person and reason are legitimate. That certainty usually isn’t possible unless you’ve called the company or agency using official, publicly available contact information. 
  • Research and validate. If the individual or organization seems suspicious, be sure the request being made is legitimate by calling the organization through an official number from its website or consulting with a trusted family member or friend.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a gift card scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov.  

Know the Red Flags

The most common types of scams will target you through fake emails, text messages, voice calls, letters, or even someone who shows up at your front door unexpectedly. No matter which technique the scammer uses, you may be:

  • Instructed to not trust your financial institution or to respond to questions in untruthful ways.
  • Pressured to purchase American Express or other merchant gift cards.
  • Threatened with law enforcement action.
  • Told to purchase gift cards and provide codes as a form of payment.

Common Gift Card Scams and How to Avoid Them

Common scams include requests related to lotteries, taxes, a new job, and helping someone in need. The sophistication of some gift card scams may be surprising. Here are details of four popular gift card scams:

  • Boss scam: In this scam, the fraudster poses as a senior manager in your company, requesting that you purchase gift cards and send them the cards’ codes.
  • Secret shopper scam: The scammer pretends to represent a major corporation that wants to hire you as a secret shopper. They send a check for you to use to purchase gift cards, keep a portion as your “pay,” and send back codes for the rest. But the check bounces after you’ve done so.
  • IRS scam: A scammer impersonating an IRS agent tells you your identity was stolen and asks you to buy gift cards using different accounts to help them identify the culprits.
  • Tech support scam: The scammer sends an email that appears to lock up your computer or mobile device, then follows up by calling and pretending to be a tech support person stepping in to help – for a price.

The Takeaway

There are many different ways scam artists will try to trick you into turning over valuable gift cards to them. Gift card scams have become increasingly sophisticated and convincing in recent years, using the latest technologies to learn facts about people that help them sound legitimate. Being extra careful and following the tips explained above can help keep your gift cards safe from scammers. If you authorize a transaction or send money to a scammer, there’s often little American Express – or anyone else – can do to help get your money back. However, the asset recovery team at the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center is sometimes able to recover at least some funds, so this is a good place to report gift card scams as well. Simply go to ic3.gov

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