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According to research by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), gift card scams cost Americans over $148 million in the first three quarters of 2021. These scams affected over 40,000 people. So how do scammers convince people to pay them with gift cards? Well, according to the FTC, it’s often done by phone. A phone scammer tells the victim that they owe money for some reason. Perhaps they’ll say it’s a late bill, or maybe overdue taxes. They tell the person that they can pay with a gift card, and say that they’ll wait on the line while they go out and buy one! If the victim complies, the scammers get them to read off the number on the back of the gift card, which gives the bad guys access to the card balance. Gift cards may seem like an odd choice for scammers, but it actually makes sense when you think about it. As one grocery chain notes on their website: [Gift cards for] certain brands and retailers are favored by scam artists for a variety of reasons. It may be because the store sells high-value items – such as electronics or technology – which the scammer would be able to resell for a large profit. This is the case for shops like Target, eBay and Walmart. In the case of Google Play and other online platforms, it is easy for the scammers to sell the gift card code in an online marketplace and disguise their stolen product among standard discounted gift cards. Gift Card Scam Pretexts So what are the common reasons that scammers give to explain why the victim should rush out and buy a gift card? Here’s a few of the more common scenarios, according to the FTC: • Scammers pretend to be a tech support group calling to fix a problem with your computer. • Romance scammers often ask for money via gift card. • Scammers say they’re a friend or a family member having an emergency. Note that this may happen after a friend or relative’s actualsocial media profile is hacked. If you receive an urgent request for help via Facebook, and your “uncle” is asking you to send gift cards, beware! • Some scammers pretend to be from a water or power company, and say that an overdue bill will result in termination of service if you don’t pay immediately. • Prize or sweepstakes scams sometimes rely on gift cards. The scammers will tell you that you’ve won something, but that you first have to pay a small service or delivery fee by gift card. • Government or law enforcement scams often involve gift cards. The scammer will tell you that they’re from the IRS, the police, the U.S. Marshals, etc. They’ll say that you owe a tax or a fine, but that you can pay via gift card. Helping Others Stay Safe If you’re a regular listener of this show, some of these pretexts might seem pretty far-fetched to you. Does anyone really believe that the IRS takes Target gift cards? Or that the federal government will let you buy your way out of jail time? But you have to remember one thing: If you’re listening to a cybersecurity podcast, you’re not typical. There are plenty of people out there who are just not very cyber-savvy — and they’re exactly the type of victims that these scammers are looking for. So the real question: If you have someone like that in

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