RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gift card scams exploded during the last year as criminals use them as the preferred way to instantly steal money from people. One agency is about to embark now on a new program that hopes to stop that scam before people ever lose money to it.
There’s a gift card for just about anything. That gives criminals a wide variety of ways to steal from people when they call asking to get paid with a gift card.
“Among the top-three forms of payment by scammers is to have you go down to the store, buy a gift card, and share the number off the back,” said Kathy Stokes, who is the Director Fraud Prevention with AARP.
Since 2018, the Federal Trade Commission has watched gift card losses skyrocket. It said $245 million has been lost. And that’s just what’s reported. The FTC said gift card scams are a vastly underreported crime.
To prevent those gift card thefts, AARP wants to ask merchants to become the first line of defense.
“We hope to work with retailers to try and test out intervention strategies. So when a person comes to that cashier and requests to put $100,000 on Google Play cards, that cashier will know enough to know it’s a scam and intervene,” Stokes said.
She admitted that it’s going to be a challenge to get retailers to act as gift card scam police.
“We’ve just launched the program today and are beginning to talk to retailers,” Stokes said. “I know there is some interest.”
Janet Wray was a gift card scam victim who fell for a fast-talking line by a criminal who called her.
“Every time I questioned him, he came back he had a very smooth answer to it,” Wray told CBS News.
Wray could have used retailer intervention after she loaded $10,000 on gift cards after the scammer told her she needed to repair her hacked account.
“It was one of those things where I absolutely could not believe I had done it,” she said.
“These scammers know what they are doing,” Stokes said. “They can drain those cards almost immediately.”
To help combat that kind of fraud, AARP has a special webpage dedicated to just gift card scams. It also has a special toll-free hotline you can call at 877-908-3360.
AARP is hoping its retailer intervention training program will be up and running by the end of the year. In the meantime, remember: anyone who asks you to pay anything by gift card is a scammer.