Gift card scams are on the rise (Again!)

Gift card scams are on the rise again over the Christmas period!

These types of scams are incredibly upsetting and stressful for the person who has fallen victim to the scam. 

photo of bags in a shop with security tags

The scams often start with highly targeted ‘spear-phishing.’ In this type of scam, the scammers 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 pretend 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:


Fraudsters, claiming to be your senior colleague or tutor, 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.

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. 

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.

What should I do when I receive an email?

  1. Take 5 minutes and think about any potential gift card requests. Senior staff and teaching 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
  4. Mark the email as junk by right-clicking the email. Do not click on any links within the body of the email. Avoid replying to the email. 

Please report suspicious activity early. The university fosters a no-blame culture, and we would like you to report early so we act quickly to keep you safe.  Please contact