Victims in Howard County, Maryland, have lost over $50,000 in gift card scams in just the first half of November, according to Howard County police.
Police released a video last week explaining how the scams work in an effort to prevent them.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, different kinds of scammers will ask for money via gift cards — but if someone asks for payment for a service through a gift card, it’s definitely a scam.
A scammer could pretend to be from the IRS, collecting taxes. They could say they’re from tech support and need money to fix your computer. Some scammers have pretended to be from a utility company threatening to cut off power or water if you don’t pay you bill by gift card.
More brazen scammers might even pretend to be a family member with an emergency, the FTC says.
Regardless of their backstory, the scams are all similar: the caller asks you to put money on a popular gift card, such as Amazon. They’ll tell their victim to head to the nearest store and get a card, sometimes staying on the phone with the victim as they go to the store.
Once you purchase the card, they’ll ask for the gift card number and its pin — which grants them immediate access to your money — and disappear.
What should you do if you got scammed? The FTC advises you call the company that issued the card right away and tell them the gift card was used in a scam. Ask if the company will refund your money. And tell the store where you bought the gift card as well.
When you do buy gift cards, take steps to protect your money. The FTC recommends you only buy gift cards from sources you know and trust, inspect the card to make sure none of its stickers were removed and keep the receipt.