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Security & privacy

Don’t buy this! Gift card scams are tough to spot – These are the things to avoid

Holiday shopping is in full swing, and you might be drawing a blank for certain people on your list. It’s tough to find the perfect present, especially if they already have most things they want or need. Tap or click to browse our shopping guides to find the best present for anyone on your list.

Sometimes, a gift card is the best answer. Almost all stores offer this quick and convenient alternative to a physical gift, and your recipient can buy exactly what they want.

Before you dig into your wallet to buy gift cards, there are a few scams you need to be aware of. Read on to keep yourself safe from these clever tricks.

Here’s the backstory

Scammers are always on the lookout for opportunities, and as the holidays draw near, so too are instances of gift card scams. After all, we’re all in a rush to finish up shopping, and maybe we let our guard down a bit.

Online security company Malwarebytes says three scams usually pop up during this time of year. These scams are designed to steal your personal information and sensitive data. Here’s what to look for.

1. Fake gift cards

One of the most obvious signs of a scam is when a gift card is sold for much less than the face value. Several websites offer incredible discounts on cards, but these are almost certainly fake. After you place your order and pay, you probably won’t receive the gift card.

Pro tip: Only buy gift cards from reputable companies or the retailer directly. It is a foolproof way to make sure that the card is genuine and if something goes wrong, you can contact the company. Amazon is a great place to start, as the e-commerce giant stocks gift cards from a ton of different companies.

2. Gift card generators

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. This scam works by having you fill in several surveys, many of which require personal information. Once the surveys are complete, the website will prompt you to download and install software to “generate the codes” to receive a gift card. Malwarebytes points out that this is certainly malware, and some have been designed to infiltrate cryptocurrency wallets. Yikes.

There is no such thing as a gift card generator. Sites that promote such a service are looking to scam you and should be avoided at all costs.

Pro tip: Don’t use gift card generators, as they are almost always fake or malicious. If you want to give cards for services like Xbox, Netflix, or Hulu, buy them from the company directly. There are some reliable places to earn rewards, too. Try one of these apps to score cash back or at least save some money.

3. Using gift cards as a payment method

While some scammers want to steal your money through fake gift cards, others want to steal your real gift cards. These scams are often linked to government impersonators or officials masquerading as law enforcement. You might get a phone call or an email with implausible demands of arrest or fines. To make the matter go away, they require payment in the form of gift cards.

Pro tip: No government agency or company will ask for payment via email or over the phone — and never with gift cards. This is always a scam, and you should never purchase gift cards to pay a government agency or anyone else who calls or emails you.

Keep reading

Don’t fall for this fake Amazon gift card offer

Think you know all the government impersonator scams? Watch for this scary twist

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