FTC warns of gift card scams ahead of holiday season

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NEW YORK -- (WTVY) Gift cards, while popular around the holidays, are also an effective way for criminals to steal money. The government is seeing a rising number of cases where scam artists convince victims to pay them off with a gift card.

The scam involves the scammer impersonating an IRS agent or a tech support person looking for payment to fix a computer. In many of these cases, the criminal asks for payment in the form of gift cards.

"It seemed so real I never thought it was a scam," said David Tomasini, who fell for one of these scams. He said someone called him posing as a lawyer and that his grandson was in jail. Tomasini, as instructed, bought $3,000 in gift cards.

The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers that more con artists are demanding this type of payment. They often ask for iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon gift cards — all of which can be found in the majority of stores.

"Gift cards are great for con artists for 3 reasons," said Monica Vaca with the FTC. "First of all, it's almost impossible for a consumer to reverse the transaction. It's quick. It's very quick for the con artist and third it let's the con artist remain anonymous."

Vaca added that, in 2015, consumers lost $20 million in scams in which gift card payments were involved. That number has ballooned to $53 million in the first nine months of 2018.

"So, if someone calls you up and demands that you pay with a gift card, hang up. That is a scam," she said.

The FTC asks anyone that has fallen victim to one of these scams to www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/paying-scammers-gift-cards and contact them.

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