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Gift cards are a convenient way to give a loved one a gift, but they’re also a popular way for scammers to steal your money. Scammers or imposters will often have an urgent need for you to send money promptly, and will strongly urge you to load money to a gift card as payment. Gift cards are like cash, and when you purchase a gift card for someone and that person uses it, you don’t get your money back.

A scammer will often push victims to purchase gift cards from a popular company, like iTunes, Amazon, Walmart or Target, and may ask you to purchase several cards at one time. The scammer will then demand the card numbers and PIN code on the back. Once you’ve given them that information, the scammer has access to the money loaded on the card and your money is usually gone without a trace.

Some scammers who demand gift card payments often include:

  • Imposters calling from the utility company, threatening you to pay your electric bill with a gift card or your power will be shut off.
  • Callers who say you’ve won a prize online, and ask you to pay fees and other charges with a gift card to receive the prize.
  • An official claiming to be from the IRS, saying you owe money in back taxes or fines and will be prosecuted unless you send your payments with a gift card.
  • A person from a tech company that requires gift card payment for repairing your computer.

These instances, and many more, are scams. If anybody asks you to pay via gift cards, it’s a scam. Gift cards are meant to be gifts, not payments!

If you’ve paid a scammer with a gift card, call the company that issued the gift card immediately and let them know your gift card number was used in a scam. If you act quickly enough, they may be able to refund your money.

If you give or receive a gift card as a gift, here are some easy steps to follow:

  • Buy gift cards from companies you know and trust. Avoid purchasing gift cards from online auction sites as they are most likely counterfeit.
  • Keep your receipt with the gift card. You may need to show the receipt if your card is misplaced or stolen.
  • Inspect the gift card before you purchase it to make sure none of the protective stickers have been removed, none of the codes have been scratched off or show the PIN number.
  • Treat gift cards like cash and spend them as quickly as you can. It’s not unusual to lose gift cards or forget you have them. Using them early will help you get the full value and avoid fees. If you lose your gift cards or they are stolen, report it to the card issuer immediately.

Remember, gift cards are meant to be gifts this holiday season, not payments. Report any type of scam or fraud to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or by visiting ftc.gov/complaint. If you have questions or concerns about a potential scam, call an associate at any Heartland Bank location.

Sarah Taubenheim

Sarah is the Media Specialist at Heartland Bank. She graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University with a degree in Communication Studies. Sarah enjoys spending time with her family and friends and organizing and decorating her home.

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