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Scam Alert: Avoid this clever gift card scam

If a friend asks for a favor, you do it, no questions asked. Right? Time to rethink that policy. In this new con, a scammer poses as a friend asking for a simple favor. The email is so convincing that BBB staff almost fell for it!

How this scam works

You get an email that appears to be from a friend or family member. The message looks harmless and casual—like something a friend might really write. For example, one version reads: “Hi, how are things going with you? Are you busy? I need a quick favor.” The message even ends with “Sent from my iPhone.”

Concerned about your friend, you reply and ask for more details. The “friend” quickly responds that they are trying to buy a gift card for their niece’s birthday. However, they are traveling and having trouble purchasing the card online. “Could you get it from any local grocery store around you?” reads the email. “I’ll pay you back as soon as I am back.”

The request sounds reasonable. But if you do buy the gift card, your “friend” will ask you share the card’s PIN and/or send a photo of the back of the card. Unfortunately, by doing this you are essentially handing money to the scammer. It’s nearly impossible to get the money back because gift cards do not have the same protections as credit or debit cards.

Protect yourself from this con

Reach out to your friend directly. If you get an unusual request, call or text your friend to confirm their story. No matter how harmless the story sounds, always double-check before sending someone money.
Use gift cards wisely. Never do business with anyone who insists on payment with gift cards. Remember, providing the numbers from the back of a gift card is just like sending cash.

For more information

Learn more about how scammers use gift cards in this BBB study on gift cards and this tip about gift cons. Also, read more about emergency scams and impostor scams.

If you’ve spotted a scam (whether or not you’ve lost money), report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams.

Stay up on the latest scams by subscribing to BBB Scam Alerts emails.

If you spot a business or offer that sounds like a scam, you can help the BBB investigate it by reporting it to the BBB Scam Tracker.

About the Author

Vee Daniel is President & CEO of the Better Business Bureau Upstate SC. Prior to joining the BBB, she served as Director of Events & Membership Services for the Home Builders Association of South Carolina and Executive Officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Spartanburg.

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