How Do Gift Card Scams Work?

October 19, 2022

In 2021, reports determined hackers stole nearly $148 million from 40,000 victims through just gift card scams and continue to threaten financial recovery for buyers. But how do gift card scams work, and what makes them so effective?


What are Gift Card Scams?  

Gift card scams are orchestrated by hackers to trick individuals into actively participating in their own theft. How is this done? Simply put, scammers do research on their targets, whom they send messages to while posing as their boss or work colleague. Disguising their email address as the person they represent; hackers will then request targets to buy a certain number and amount in gift cards on their behalf. Once purchased, the hackers will demand their targets send those PIN codes via message, accessing the funds and thus successfully stealing from workers.   


How Gift Card Scams Work 

Simple and direct, gift card scams make for a quick, minimal-risk theft option for cybercriminals. After thoroughly researching their target through social media, the hacker composes an email requesting gift card purchases while posing as an authority figure from their business, such as a CEO or manager. Through this method, scammers can hold power over the victim, threatening to suspend or terminate their employment should they refuse to cooperate with the request. After agreeing, victims are then instructed where, how much, and the number of cards to buy. In some cases, hackers request multiple gift cards from different businesses to prevent notice from companies. When all cards are collected, the hackers finally demand each gift card’s PIN code, completing the gift card scam by accessing and spending the funds from the card. This is a maliciously effective means to steal, since not only do the purchases remain anonymous with fake emails, but the funds are non-refundable and cannot be returned to victims because they are gifts. As a result, victims of gift card scams through email phishing face little to no protection should they follow through with the transaction.  


Identifying and Reporting Gift Card Scams 

Identifying the signs of email gift card scams will help workers block and prevent scammers from gaining profits down the line. One major detail that identifies gift card scams is the sense of urgency: scammers demand that you immediately go and buy gift cards, otherwise consequences will be faced. No matter who they pose as—whether it’s a coworker, manager, or your company President—this request is neither enforceable nor legal within the workplace. Additionally, any emails that request multiple cards from different stores such as Amazon, BestBuy, Target, eBay, CVS, Walgreens, or Walmart are clearly gift card scams and cannot be trusted to purchase.  

Due to the sophistication of hacker email phishing techniques, workers can unfortunately fall prey to gift card scams that cost hundreds of dollars; yet victims aren’t entirely helpless. Should you fall for a gift card scam, here are certain steps to take to prevent hackers from further accessing gift card funds from other buyers:  

  • Immediately contact the gift card’s company to report the gift card fraud. As they will require proof, save all email messages, receipts, and codes conducted during the scam transaction.  
  • If unable to locate the card company’s contact information, report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, as they oversee all civil consumer protection and privacy cases within the U.S.  
  • Purchase only from your trusted stores. If hackers conducting gift card scams try to coax you into buying from online auction or company websites, the odds are strong that the cards will directly transfer funds into their control.  
  • Should large gift card sums be stolen, buyers can report the gift card scam to their state attorney general, who will investigate to find the scammer, potentially forcing the criminal to face charges and compensate victims.  
  • As always in the case of theft, report gift card scams to the local police, as they must file a report and contact the card’s company, who may reimburse funds. 


While gift cards are specifically designed to be gifts, hackers seek to ruin the process by turning this method of exchange into a one-sided profit scheme through gift card scams. By identifying which phishing emails are fake or unjustly demand gift cards, workers can protect themselves from theft while staying productive in their work environment. For extra protection from gift card email phishing, Copy Systems, Inc. offers Managed IT solutions to detect and block scammers with ease. To learn more about our cybersecurity and management services, contact us at CSI today!