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  • Writer's pictureAndy Murphy

How to Spot a Gift Card Scam

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Why Would the IRS Need a Gift Card?

There’s a scam growing in popularity involving deception, high-pressure tactics, and store gift cards. Unsuspecting people will be pressured into paying off an unknown debt using store gift cards. These are aptly named gift card scams.

How a Gift Card Scam Works:

A scammer will call someone they feel will be an easy target to be manipulated like an older person. They’ll have a convincing conversation pretending to be from the IRS or some other big organization They’ll say the target owes thousands of dollars in fees and fines creating fear in the mind of their target.

Generally, the target will then say they don’t have that much money. Then the scammer will inquire how much do you have that they can send the money right away? The target will say they have a few hundred dollars they can get their hands on quickly. At this point, the scammer may pretend to talk to a supervisor about negotiating a lower price in exchange for sending them money via a gift card.

That sounds weird, right? Why would the IRS need a Target gift card? To a normal person reading this online, that sounds totally unbelievable. In a frantic state, the target may be persuaded by the scammer using intense scare tactics.

The scammer will then tell the target to go to the store and buy the gift card immediately. But the catch is that the target can’t hang up the phone. They have to say on the phone with the scammer so they can control the situation.

The scammer will then instruct the target on how much to get, the type of card to buy. Then once the cards have been purchased the scammer will have the target read the numbers off the back of the card to them.

Usually, the scammer will have a cart full of merchandise on the site and they plug the gift card into it. Then they hit purchase and as long as the amount goes through, they’re good. They’ll thank the target and hang up.

The money is gone and the purchases have been made. It’s very hard to investigate these claims. In fact, stores may not even track down the transactions because the amounts are generally not worth taking the time to investigate. So it just keeps happening.

Seeing a Gift Card Scam in Action

In this podcast episode, I share about a time I intervened to help an alleged target of such a scam. The woman I encountered was frantic and repeating everything she was being told to do on the phone. She caught not only my attention but the attention of store employees as well.

Scroll up and listen to what happened next.

Report It

If you’ve been the victim of this scam or know someone who has, don’t be ashamed. Please be brave and share your experience with the authorities. Report this type of crime to the authorities at the Federal Trade Commission. You can even do it online:


Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.


Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

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