The Federal Trade Commission is warning of a new spin on a well-known scam involving gift cards.
You’ve probably heard the stories: a victim receives a call, email or even a text message requesting funds for a seemingly legitimate and worthy cause. The victim is asked to send gift cards or otherwise transfer money to the scammer, who then disappears without a trace.
The FTC says scammers are now pretending to be religious officials - pastors, rabbis, priests or bishops - and are asking worshipers for gift card contributions.
“Appeals are often made by email, but we’ve heard people are also getting texts and phone calls, too,” said Colleen Tressler, FTC Consumer Education Specialist.
The emails typically include the name of a local pastor and an authentic-looking email address. But a closer analysis raises many red flags. For example, the address and service provider isn’t the one the church normally uses, and the email may begin with the word “hi” without actually addressing the recipient by name. Spelling errors are also common in these types of emails.
The scammer will often ask the victim to purchase a gift card for Amazon, iTunes or Google Play and request that the victim provides the gift card number and PIN on the back of the card.
“Those numbers let the scammer immediately get the money you loaded onto the card. And once that’s done, the scammer and your money are gone, usually without a trace,” said Tressler.
If you or someone you know paid a scammer with a gift card, it’s critical to report it as soon as possible. Start by calling the card company and telling them that the gift card was used in a scam.
Victims can also report incidences to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. These reports are used to launch investigations and help stop scammers in their tracks.
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