Government Impersonators Are Calling Consumers With Gift Card Scam

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 08, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's not enough that you need to worry about Indian call centers impersonating IRS agents, or fake emails from courts demanding information for jury duty, now consumers need to be on the lookout for phone calls from fake government officials demanding payment via gift card.

The Federal Communications Commission issued a warning regarding the gift card scam last week, even hosting a Twitter "town hall" to answer questions about the scheme. So what can you do to stay safe?

Phony Phone Calls

According to the FCC's Consumer Alert, "phone fraudsters" are calling consumers and posing as government officials or law enforcement personnel and demanding payments. The payments must be immediate, and consumers are told to buy a gift card and provide the card numbers over the phone:

As part of the gift card call scam, the callers typically give consumers, many of whom are older adults, seemingly legitimate reasons for the call. They are told, for example, that a loved one has been caught texting while driving or that the consumer owes back taxes. The caller then advises the consumer that he or she can resolve the problem immediately by paying with store gift cards, often Apple iTunes gift cards. The consumer is instructed to provide the card's access code, which allows the scammer to use or sell the gift card to third parties.

Initial reports indicate that callers pose as IRS, FBI, and even local sheriff's department officials when demanding payment.

Safety From Scammers

The FCC and other official organizations have made it clear that government agencies and legitimate businesses never seek payment via gift card over the phone. And if you receive such a call, you should report it immediately, either to the agency being fraudulently represented (like the IRS) or the company issuing the requested gift cards (like Apple).

The FCC also had some other helpful hints:

  • Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
  • If you are unclear if a caller is legitimate, hang up, independently look up the organization's publicly listed phone number or legitimate website, and contact them through an official number, web form or email address to see if they called you.
  • If you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC so we can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.

Scammers often like to increase their contact around the holidays, so it's important for consumers to be even more careful in the next few months.

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