Gift Card Scams

Gift Card Scams: What You Need to Know

You might not realize it, but hackers are making a ton of money thanks to phishing attacks, and now they have started to focus on gift cards. Scarlet Widow, which is a notorious scam group out of Nigeria, has really been boosting its efforts to romance scam people and using gift cards. The group is typically focused on people in the US and UK, and is also well known for tax scams, and rental scams.

Are you a person who is at risk of being scammed by a group like Scarlet Widow? The group generally focuses on large or medium sized businesses including non-profits, such as the Boy Scouts of America, the United Way, and the YMCA. The scammers work by sending staff members emails, and though most people notice immediately that these emails are actually scams, it only takes one email to put a company at risk.

Common Targets

From around November of 2017 to today, Scarlet Widow has been targeting thousands of people and non-profits. It is also targeting the tax and education industries. Remember, the group only wins if they get access to email addresses from these organization, and they might put malware into the systems or use phishing links. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what method the hackers use, once they are in, the scam begins.

What is the Scam? 

So, what is the scam? Scarlet Widow tends to use traditional scams, but these days, the group has started using gift card scams. When we look at data from late 2018, we see that more than 25% of people who were scammed during that year said that they were victims of gift card scams.

The thing is, scammers really love this type of scam because they have fast access to cash, they can do it all anonymously, and once the scam is done, it is very hard to fix. Basically, all the scammer has to do is sweet talk their way into having someone buy a gift car, taking a photo of it, and they now have the money that was on it.

Typically, Scarlet Widow asked for iTunes or Google Play cards, but they have also been known to ask for gift cards from place like Walgreens, Target, or CVS. You might think it’s a bit strange that these people could actually con others to pay for services like cell phone service with a Visa gift card but remember…these are experts at manipulating people.

They often come up with a story about a sense of urgency, like this amazing deal will expire in three hours, and people actually fall for it. One example of this is an administrator from a financial advisory company I’ve worked with actually sent a scammer $1500 in iTunes gift cards. Why did she do it? She was duped into thinking the email was coming from the head of the finance department in the company she worked for.

One way to get a hold on this is to set up some type of security awareness training, but I even know someone in the industry who fell for it. It was an assistant of a security awareness trainer. She got an email that she believed was from her boss. It asked for five $500 Apple gift cards, which were going to be sent to their top five clients. So, the assistant went to Walgreens, bought five cards, and then, just as the email said, she scratched them to reveal the codes, took photos, and sent them back to her boss.  Except, it wasn’t her boss…it was a scammer who was now $2500 richer.

There are some limits to what scammers can do with gift cards, but they will do anything they can to get more money coming into their pockets. So, if you ever get a request for a gift card, be smart and use a ton of caution.

ROBERT SICILIANO CSP, is a #1 Best Selling Amazon author, CEO of CreditParent.com, the architect of the CSI Protection certification; a Cyber Social and Identity and Personal Protection security awareness training program.