When was the last time you used an Amazon gift card? Unless you did for special occasions, someone likely asked you to use it as a payment method.
Gift cards as payment?
The intended use, of course, is to buy on Amazon. Gift cards work great when you don’t know what to give your friends and family for birthday. But a $50 gift card, they can buy on Amazon anything they want up to that price.
Until recently, however, Amazon gift cards are being used for a different purpose.
Not precisely to buy birthday gifts.
Scammers love using Amazon gift cards, and here is why:
- They are redeemable worldwide, no matter who you are or where you live.
- They are difficult to track. So if you buy with a gift card, Amazon doesn’t recognize who sent you this gift. At least not as a transaction.
- They are as good as cash (some apps let you convert Amazon cards to money, which you can use outside the platform).
The next time someone asks you to pay via this method, you know they’re looking for these three features. The question is, how does this affect you?
- Amazon Gift Card Scams (and other payment tactics)
- Are All Gift Cards Fraudulent? 4 Tell-Tale Signs
- Amazon Gift Card Fraud Techniques
- How to Use Gift Cards Safely (and Prevent Fraud)
Amazon Gift Card Scams (and other payment tactics)
Would you pay in cash someone you don’t trust for an expensive item? We know what happens: if you want to back off for any reason, you can’t. The seller is gone with your cash forever.
Gift cards present the same limitations. They work differently than sales money. For example, they allow you to transfer funds with no transaction costs.
But like wire transfers, once the receiver claims the money, you couldn’t request a refund. For this reason, Amazon gift card scams are expensive mistakes for the victim. By the time you ask for help, the stranger has already claimed the card funds.
Often when contacting these individuals, you know nothing other than the offer they sell. So, if anything goes wrong, you have no information to reach out, not even evidence to make a complaint.
How Does One End up Asking for Gift Cards?
Since con men use it for payments, any purchase you make could require this “payment method.” Legit businesses will usually not use them, meaning the scammer will usually offer it as an alternative to other risky payment methods. The gift card payment is only used when you are paying for goods and services that need more discretion.
If you can’t pay via wire transfer or cash, then you might choose gift cards. The risk you expose, however, is just as worrying.
Some fraudsters manage to get you to say the code on the back of the card. So even if you own the gift card, they have already claimed it for you. You’ll find this trick many times when selling physical Amazon cards on eBay auctions and related sites.
Are All Gift Cards Fraudulent? 4 Tell-Tale Signs
Like any other payment, gift cards are tools. The consumer gives it a usage, which may not be intended by Amazon. We shouldn’t worry about gift cards, but how they use them. The guide on payment fraud reveals clues of an incoming payment scam.
Using Amazon Cards as Payment Methods
Con men use them like they could use Google Play or iTunes cards. Until this point, you may not know that scammers have learned to convert cards into virtual money. For them, they work like another payment method, but better.
Paying with cards suggests the receiver will get “safe money” while you transfer with zero purchase protection. If you, by mistake, sent a $100 card instead of $50, that error cost you $50.
Don’t be confused: gift card payments are as unusual as delivering cash to a seller. Why not use more efficient methods?
Only One Payment Method
Why? Because fraudsters won’t do business with you without Amazon gift cards. According to them, “If you really want this deal, you wouldn’t mind using our payment option.”
Gift cards often combine with another confidence trick: advance fee fraud. They may ask you to send a gift card first to cover the shipping and other fees. “If you are interested in dealing with us, go ahead, and make the payment, and get back to me.”
What’s the problem with the other options? You believe that if you propose a better method with enough good reasons, the seller will accept it. The problem is, the con man does not want a fair deal.
It will first start with vague excuses for why they don’t use it. If you insist, they switch to an annoyed tone: “Stop disturbing/wasting our time if you can’t follow a simple instruction!”
Deep Discounts for Paying With Amazon Gift Card
Here, they don’t force you to use gift cards but suggest them. In both ways, they make money from you:
- If you choose a discount as anybody would do, you may fall for a payment scam.
- If you go with the standard offer, they take advantage of an inflated price.
For small payments, people won’t mind using the card even if they distrust. Don’t fall for such confidence tricks! Scammers may let you win the first deal to get your trust, then dupe you on a more expensive offer.
If you look rationally, no conditions can justify why you get a deep discount when paying with Amazon gift cards. If using these cards grants you a 90%-discount, you may as well expect a 90% chance of not receiving the product (nor your money back).
They Micromanage Like Crazy
If you choose virtual cards, your money’s gone the moment you send them. If you buy them at a physical store, you still have a small window before paying.
Here comes a trust dilemma. If you buy the physical card, the scammer who doesn’t trust you worries that you claim the code before he gets it. But if you tell him the secret code before completing the purchase, you open yourself to advance fee scams.
What do they do? They stay with you on the phone/chat message and ask every few seconds about the status of the card.
- Are you in the store already?
- What Amazon card are you buying?
- Have you revealed the number yet?
They want to get the code ASAP.
Ideally, you would only buy the card after you received the item because you can’t refund your money. But how does the scammer know you can pay for it? All of it leads to unnecessary confusion, easily avoided with ordinary payment methods.
Amazon Gift Card Fraud Techniques
Despite its popularity, payment scams form just one part of the way to scam with gift cards. These crooks may also pose as Amazon.com, send you phishing messages, or pull the classic 419 (read about Nigerian scams).
Here, an Amazon imposter will make up an excuse to make you transfer money via gift cards. You may get a message warning about your account security, and the only way to fix it is through a “refundable” payment (the refund will never happen).
Perhaps, they reach out on email saying they have added experimental payment features. If you help them test their method by sending X to this account, they’ll reward you with $25-$100 plus your refund.
Where to start? Amazon will never ask you to verify it via payment methods. Imagine your account is about to be suspended/blocked, but if you pay $50 with a gift card, it unlocks immediately. Not only that sounds far-fetched. Does it mean you can’t solve the problem unless you pay? Your suspicions are right.
Claim Your Super Gift Card!
Amazon uses these marketing tricks often. You may have seen the banner “Claim your $70 gift card now.” The catch is, you need to qualify first by buying other subscriptions: nothing wrong so far.
These offers shouldn’t be confused with the following bogus claims. Have you ever seen the ad “Your $1000 gift card is waiting for you?” Are you entitled to receive one grand for opening a free Amazon account, like millions of others? That would cost you a lot, Jeff.
Then, who is behind this offer? Phishing scammers. Needless to say, you won’t even receive a cent from them. When you click, it sends you to some of these:
- You land on an Amazon.com cloned site where you need to sign in and complete a survey.
- They send you to a different website supposedly owned by Amazon. You have to register and include sensitive data: all your contact information, IDs, SSN, and bank numbers.
At this point you might have become a victim of identity theft.
Then you get a message:
Congratulations! “Your $1000 gift card is on its way to your Amazon balance. Please, allow three to five business days to process it through your account.”
Do yourself a favor and check our complete guide on how to avoid unexpected prize scams.
Gift Card Payment Fraud
When scammers mention Amazon cards as payment methods, they know their victims will react with suspicion. That’s why they try to win their trust first by sending fake money, for example.
One risky way to do it: chargebacks. You pay the victim with purchase protection, they get confident, and then ask for the gift card. However, scammers need to be fast: if scammers issue the chargeback after the victim moves/spends the funds, they may lose the money.
More often, they’ll use checks and money orders. With these, they could easily send you (fake) ten-million-dollar checks: they just keep them on reasonable numbers like $2000 to make it look realistic.
You claim the money, get excited, and decide to give back with a gift card. Once the check/money order proves to be fraudulent, you lose all of it.
July Update: There's a new gift card scam on Amazon. Some sellers are gifting fake cards in exchange for reviews (check the video below).
How to Use Gift Cards Safely (and Prevent Fraud)
As its name suggests, gift cards serve for gifts: anything that differs to that purpose should be flagged as fraudulent. The next time you need to use these:
- Ask your seller about payment options. If there’s none, they may be selling you a fake deal. If it’s Amazon who insists you use gift cards, it’s an imposter: customer support never does that.
- Don’t provide the card details to people you don’t trust. They’ll have claimed the money before you have time to report.
- Only buy from the Amazon store or trusted physical stores.
- Use it diligently. Claim the card once you get at home, change the PIN for security, and don’t delay in using the money.
You won’t fall for Amazon gift card scams if you know how they work. Share this guide to protect other shoppers like you.