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One common element of scams is that the scammers ask us to pay them using payment methods that are difficult to trace. These payment methods include payment via wire transfer, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or even cash. Scammers do this because it is harder for us to recover our money when we send the money through one of these methods.

With gift card scams, the scammers often pretend to be someone they’re not and tell you that you must send money to them. The scammer may demand that you purchase one, or multiple, gift cards and either send a photo of the gift card to the scammer or share the numbers on the back of the gift card with the scammer.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, approximately one in four people who report sending money to a scammer say that the scammer tricked them into sharing numbers on a gift card with the scammer. Scammers like asking people for gift cards because gift cards are ubiquitous and easy to purchase. Gift cards also have fewer safeguards than other payment options. Sending money through gift cards makes it easy for the scammer to get money quickly, can be harder to reverse, and makes it easy for the scammer to maintain their anonymity. Many scammers ask for gift cards from Target, Google Play, Apple, eBay, Walmart, Best Buy, CVS, or Walgreens.

We often hear that when we send money to a scammer, the money is gone and we cannot get it back. While this can often be the case, there are steps you can take to make it more likely that you can recover your money. Some gift card companies have started implementing policies to help us recover gift cards that we’ve sent to scammers. While recovery of your money is far from guaranteed, these policies can increase the likelihood of getting your money back.

Some companies that issue gift cards have begun to flag transactions that look fraudulent. The companies can freeze the stolen gift card money, preventing the scammers from accessing the funds and giving you a chance to recover your money.

If you send money to a scammer this way, you should act fast and follow these steps:

  • Report the scam to the company that issued the gift card. Tell the company that you were scammed. Share the gift card number(s) and any information from your receipt with the company.
  • Report the scam as soon as possible. The sooner you report the scam, the more likely it is you may be able to recover your money.
  • Ask the gift card company to give you your money back. If the gift card company froze the funds or the money hasn’t been downloaded by the scammer, the gift card company may be able to give your money back to you.

In addition to reporting the scam to the gift card company, you can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission at You can report any scam on this website, not just scams involving gift cards. If you want information about reporting scams, call Contra Costa Senior Legal Services at (925) 609-7900 for help. To learn more about gift card scams, click here.