Is it safe?

The FTC’s Consumer Protection Data Spotlight says that “gift card fraud” has topped the list since 2018 as the number one way people lose money to fraud.  It may not be happening the way you think it is, though.

Scammers are reaching out via phone calls, texts, emails, and social media.  Their goal is to coerce their victims into giving them gift cards as payment. The scammer will offer impressive savings on monthly accounts including utilities, phone, and Wi-Fi services.  They will invite you to participate in business promotions and secret shopping experiences. The worst offenders are acting like very official-sounding government office representatives, usually from the IRS.  As they persuade you to do what they are asking, they will ask you to pay with gift cards, implying it is a safer or better way to pay.

“The IRS reminds taxpayers gift cards are for gifts, not for making tax payments.”  

This is how the IRS scam works.  You receive a call or voice message identifying the caller as the IRS, needing to speak to you immediately.  Every scammer’s script is different, but the essence of the conversation is you have made an error and are going to be charged outrageous penalties or possibly go to jail, but you can stop this process immediately by paying with…. gift cards.

Depending on the skill of your scammer and your own Spidey Sense, the script used on you might just be convincing enough to make you consider acting.  It’s not unusual to feel particularly uncomfortable when you think you are on the IRS’s radar, especially when they suggest you might be prosecuted for criminal activity if you don’t cooperate.

According to the IRS website, the IRS will first generally mail a bill to a taxpayer who owes taxes.  They will never threaten to bring law enforcement agents to arrest you, nor will they suggest you may lose your driver’s license, business license, or immigration status if you do not act upon their accusation.

They may refer to the gift cards as electronic vouchers.  We have long used the word “vouch” in our vocabulary to assert accuracy or credibility.  When you add the suffix “-er” to the end of the word, voucher means a receipt.  Thus, an electronic voucher does not mean that you are paying with something credible.  It’s a play on words.

It’s typical for the scamming party to request gift cards from a specific business such as Walmart, Target, and Walgreens. The FTC reports that the top choice for scammers in 2020 was from eBay.  Previous years were topped with Google Play and iTunes gift cards.  But it’s not out of the question that scammers will diversify their requests outside of these popular brands.

Should you receive a solicitation you suspect to be fraud, delete the email or text message without responding.  Never give your gift card information to callers claiming to be tech companies, utilities, or government agencies.  You cannot pay these bills with gift cards!  Trying to do so is just giving a gift to a scam artist.

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Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker

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