Protect yourself from the five commonest Google Play gift card scams this season
Since the start of the year, NCL’s Fraud.org campaign has received many complaints from consumers reporting that scammers involved during a sort of fraud requested payment via gift cards. Dozens of these complaints mentioned that they specifically wanted payment via Google Play gift cards. Unfortunately, many of the complaints we received indicated that the buyer had already sent the cash. The typical losses reported in such cases were $1,937.
The story we heard from one consumer in Alaska is typical of this sort of scam. The buyer received a voicemail saying that she owed the IRS which, if she didn’t pay, her bank accounts and Social Security would be frozen. She was told that a warrant for her arrest would be put out if she didn’t pay immediately.
When she called back, she was told to shop for Target and Google Play gift cards and provides the scammer the codes on the rear of the cards, which she did. It wasn’t until the scammer asked for even extra money for a “security deposit” that she realized it had been a scam. Unfortunately, the scammers had already drained the cash from the gift cards, leaving her out thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, complaints like this one are just the tip of the iceberg. Gift cards are popular targets for scammers. Consistent with the FTC, $74.3 million was lost thanks to gift card and reload card scams within the first nine months of this year. With the vacation season upon us, it’s likely that scammers will build up their activity even more.
To help you protect yourself from scams involving gift cards, Google and NCL are partnering to assist educate consumers about the way to spot the warning signs of those scams. The foremost important thing to understand is that Google Play gift cards can only be wont to purchase apps, movies, books, and other computer game or app-related purchases through the Google Play store. Don’t be misled. If anyone ever asks you to pay them with a Google Play gift card, it’s a scam. Period.
Five common Google Play gift card scam scenarios
IRS and government imposter
You may get a call from someone claiming to be the IRS, police, or another official government entity. If this caller tries to scare you into buying gift cards as payment for back taxes or for other legal situations, hang up the phone; this caller may be a scammer. Albeit the caller knows and recites the last four digits of your Social Security number, this is often still a scam. The caller may become hostile or insulting and that they may threaten you with arrest, deportation, or suspension of a business or driver’s license.
These are empty threats. Under no circumstances does the IRS, police, or any government entities require payment with gift cards to resolve tax or other legal situations. In fact, the Treasury military officer for Tax Administration states on its website that any call requesting that taxpayers place funds on a Google Play Gift Card or the other gift cards to pay taxes and costs is an indicator of fraudulent activity. Don’t buy gift cards and supply this caller with the codes under any circumstances.
You may get a call from someone claiming to be tech support or a computer software company posing for Google Play gift cards as payment to repair your computer. Alternatively, you’ll get an email from a computer software company asking you to call them in order that they can protect your computer from harmful viruses or fix a program you employ.
The e-mail may contain an epidemic that causes computer problems. Once you call, they’re going to invite payment and should say that because your computer has been compromised, your credit cards have also been compromised. Then they’re going to invite payment by Google Play gift card.
A caller may claim to be a loved one in trouble (or an attorney or representative of a loved one who is in trouble) and wishes to receive the money within the sort of gift cards to remedy their emergency situation. The caller may attempt to deter you from contacting the loved one in question to validate the claims — don’t believe them.
Discounted goods or services
Someone may tempt you with an excellent deal and offer an outsized discount if you pay with a Google Play gift card rather than paying with a credit/debit card. They’ll also claim there are issues with a credit/debit card payment you latterly made so you want to pay with a Google Play gift card instead.
You might get an email from someone you recognize asking you to perform a “task” or a “favor” to get Google Play gift cards and email them the redemption codes. While the sender’s name and email address may appear as if a loved one, friend, or colleague, this is often actually a classy phishing scam disguised as a trustworthy request from someone you recognize.
Don’t buy gift cards and respond with the redemption codes. If you would like to verify whether or not the request is legitimate, don’t respond to the e-mail sender or click on any links in their email. Instead, contact the person requesting the gift codes face to face or via an alternate communication method (e.g., the telephone number you often use to call/text them).
Protect yourself and your loved ones
It is important to understand that each one of the scenarios outlined above is a scam. Scammers may dictate which store you ought to purchase Google Play gift cards from (e.g., Target, Walmart, CVS, etc.). Scammers may discourage you from chatting with or answering questions from store associates, colleagues, friends, or relations.
If you discover yourself in any of the situations above, or something like them, you’re in danger of being scammed. Don’t purchase gift cards and share the redemption codes with the requester over the phone or in writing. If you do, your money is probably going gone. If you or a loved one has experienced a scam, please immediately report it to your local department.
Victims of scams could also be embarrassed to report the scam to anyone, but it can help prevent others from being scammed. You’ll also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission on its website or directly with Google by phone at the toll-free U.S. telephone number (1-855-836-3987) or by email (visit g.co/Play/Contact and click on on “Contact Us”).
The bottom line is that any time you’re asked to pay someone with a Google Play gift card in exchange for goods or services, it’s a scam. In fact, it’s a violation of Google Play’s Terms of Service to use Google Play gift cards to buy anything outside of the Google Play Android app store.
Unfortunately, despite our greatest efforts, scammers still find ways to defraud consumers. If this happens to you, contact the corporate that issued the gift card. The company’s contact info is typically on the cardboard or the card’s packaging (the FTC also features a list here).
It’s rare, but if you act quickly enough the corporate could also be ready to refund your money. Also, contact the shop where you bought the cardboard and file a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We share complaints with our network of nearly 200 enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put fraudsters behind bars.