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Gift cards as a form of payment? It’s a scam

In recent years, gift cards have become very popular. Unfortunately, scammers have an interest in gift cards, too. Scammers are using gift cards to pry money from you as a form of payment in their latest con.

Scams that seek payment by gift cards take many forms, but often carry a common theme. The scammer may assert that you neglected to pay taxes to the IRS and must pay immediately. Or, the “utility company” calls to inform you that you have failed to pay your bill and now face an immediate cutoff.

To fix an urgent problem on your computer, “tech support” will fix the issue with payment by gift card. Or, a “family member” in distress calls and needs your help immediately to get out of a jam, and begs you to purchase gift cards and to keep it a secret from the rest of your family.

The scammer directs you to go to a nearby retailer, buy a gift card in the amount you owe, and then asks you to share the numbers and PIN on the back of the card.

Once you share those numbers, the scam is over. You will never hear from the caller again, and you won’t see the money you paid for the gift cards again, either.

Gift cards only can be used to purchase products and services. No government entity will accept – let alone ask for – a gift card as a form of payment. Nor will a utility company or any other legitimate business. The second someone asks you to pay a supposed debt by gift card, know it’s a scam and hang up the phone.

When it comes to fraud, vigilance is your number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams. For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud.