Gift cards scams are on the rise!

Gift cards have become prime targets for scammers. This often starts with highly targeted ‘spear phishing.’ In this type of scam, the thieves have done some homework on your organisation; their mail to you often looks like it has come from a colleague or superior in your department or college.

The supposed requestor is always indisposed, maybe in a conference, a meeting or rushing to an event. To make the event successful, they implore you to acquire some gift cards from a nearby shop, scratch off the panel on the back and send this unique number to them by reply. You will be promised your money back with a departmental claim.

These gift cards or vouchers are typically untethered to individual identities, hard to trace, easy to convert to cash or resalable goods. They are not bound by the same extensive regulations as credit and debit card transactions. It’s no wonder so many different scams have developed around gift cards.

Below are 5 gift card scams to be aware of:

Government imposters

This is a fast-growing scam involves con artists posing as government officials and trying to dupe unsuspecting victims into paying with gift cards. The police, DVLA (traffic fines), HMRC (tax payments) do not take gift cards as payment methods. Not all are as easy to spot:


Fraudsters, claiming to be your senior colleague, ask for the urgent purchase of a gift card as a present for a colleague or as an award on an event. Once you have sent the code from the card the scammer will either transfer the money off the card immediately, or sell it on to other criminals.

Gift card refund fraud

For university retail units, take care if a customer returns a product and asks to have it refunded to a gift card. This may be part of a scheme to extract untraceable funds from a stolen credit card.

Physical gift card tampering

Make sure that the ‘scratch off’ panels are intact. If not, you may find the card has no balance left when you come to use it.


Hackers will sometimes employ internet bots to seek out valid gift cards with activated balances. Use the remaining balance on such cards as quickly as possible.

How to spot gift card scams

  1. Take 5 minutes and think about any potential gift card requests. Senior staff should make it clear that they will never ask for these.
  2. Never give away any sensitive personal information like a National Insurance Number (social security number) or driver’s license number. Keep a close eye out for ‘too good to be true’ gift card offers, which are likely to be scams.
  3. Know that government authorities will never ask for payment by gift cards and always contact the authorities immediately if you believe you’ve fallen victim to a scam.

If you have been a victim of such scam please contact