What to do if you mistakenly give a criminal your gift card PIN

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Gift cards are popular around the holidays, but they’re being used as more than just gifts by criminals: They’re being used to steal your money!

RELATED: Warning: Don’t fall for this new Social Security phone scam

FTC: Paying scammers with gift cards is on the rise

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) latest data analysis shows criminal use of gift cards to cheat you out of your hard-earned cash is skyrocketing, up a whopping 270% from 2015 through the first nine months of 2018.

Here’s the way this scam works: You receive a call from someone purporting to be from the government (such as the IRS or SSA) or perhaps from the tech support arm of a big company.

You’re might be told you owe back taxes, need to pay to get your new Medicare card or need technical support to restore functionality to your computer — none of which is true.

You’re then asked to go buy a gift card, typically through Walmart, Target, Walgreens or CVS. If you’re instructed to buy multiple cards, you may be asked to visit several stores.

Once you have the card or cards in hand, the criminal on the other end of the line will ask you to give them the PIN number off the back of the card. Don’t do it!

If you make the mistake of doing so, the criminal can easily access the money you loaded on the card and drain its value down to zero.

This year alone, $53 million has been lost to these kinds of impostor scams involving gift cards.

Crooks love these gift cards because they get easy access to your funds in an anonymous way, leaving you with little recourse once the money is gone.


Gift cards for iTunes or Google Play are most highly sought by the crooks.

MoneyPak, Amazon and Steam are other kinds of cards requested, according to the FTC analysis, though they lag much farther behind in popularity.

gift cards

As the FTC notes, “If someone tells you to pay with a gift card, don’t do it. Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments.”

What should you do if you give the PIN to a criminal? 

Although your money is almost certainly gone and can’t be recovered, the FTC advises that you should report this criminal activity to the card issuer:

Card issuer Report by phone Report Online Additional notes
Apple 1 (800) 275-2273 [press 6 then say ‘operator’] N/A Click here
Google 1 (855) 466-4438 Click here Click here
Money Pak/Green Dot 1 (866) 795-7969 Click here N/A
Amazon 1 (888) 280-4331 N/A Click here
Steam N/A Click here Click here

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