During the holiday season and all-year round, it is common for consumers to purchase gift cards for themselves, for family members and friends. Hackers seek to exploit this common purchase in the form of gift card scams.
How does this happen?
Hackers will initiate fraudulent requests by spoofing a known or trusted person – such as a person in leadership or a position of authority within an organization, a friend, or a loved one – to make the request appear legitimate. They also create a sense of urgency with a fake story or emergency to convince the recipient to act quickly without verifying. These fraudulent requests may be sent through email, SMS text messages, and social media platforms.
Authorities continue to receive reports of gift card scams from New Jersey residents and organizations. For example, an employee received an email sent from an external account purportedly from the CEO, who was attending a meeting out of state. The CEO requested their phone number to perform a task. The employee provided their phone number and then communicated through SMS text messages. The request was to purchase two $500 Apple gift cards, to which the victim complied and submitted the back of the gift cards. The request was was only identified as a scam when the victim was asked for the remaining balances.
In the above campaign, the hackers stated that they are traveling and having an issue purchasing a $500 Apple gift card for their niece’s birthday. They request the recipient to purchase the gift card and will pay them back as soon as they get back. Other campaigns may, for example, apologize for bothering the potential victim and inquire if they have an Amazon account or order from them.
What should we do?
Refrain from responding to unsolicited communications, clicking links or opening attachments from unknown senders, and exercise caution with communications from known senders. If you are unsure of am email’s legitimacy, then contact the sender via a separate means of communication, such as by phone, before taking action. Call the sender from a phone number that you already have, and NOT from a phone number provided in the email requesting the gift cards.
Refrain from complying with requests to purchase gift cards and sending the numbers to someone without first verifying the request via a separate means of communication. These are unusual requests or demands, typically portraying a sense of urgency, and should be handled with suspicion.
What should I do if this is happening or already happened to me?
- If gift card information was already sent, then immediately contact the company who issued the gift card to inquire if the funds are still on the gift card and can be frozen.
- Incidents should be reported on https://www.cyber.nj.gov/report (the NJCCIC Cyber Incident Report Form), and https://www.ic3.gov (the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center), and to the Linden Police Department at 908 474 8502.
Let’s all remain vigilant of these and similar scams.