There’s a very specific danger looming online right now, one that seeks to steal both its victims’ money and identifying information. Under the wrong circumstances, this particular threat can even land the victims in jail—romance scams.

What is a Romance Scam?

They prey on people who are lonely or feel unsuccessful at finding love. Victims of romance scams can come from every income level, educational background, gender, age, sexual identity and ethnicity. There’s no single target demographic for this crime because anyone can be tricked by a sweet talker who says exactly what they need to hear.

Unfortunately, with the commercialism of Valentine’s Day all around us, this is the time when scammers up their game. No one wants to be alone on the most romantic day of the year. It’s why it is the time when the bait is thrown out there and the nets are cast, hoping to snare a willing victim.

With that said, romance scams strike at all times of the year. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), people in the U.S. lost over $100 million to romance scams between January 1 and July 31 of 2021.

Different Types of Romance Scams

There are a few different ways that romance scams can manifest, including:

1. Out of towner needs money

One common approach is the social media message from a pleasant-looking person who is “intrigued” by your profile picture. You start talking and learn that this person is an offshore oil rig worker, deep-sea fisherman or even a deployed member of the military. The job is important, as it provides the excuse to be away from a computer and phone, away from their own funds for long periods of time. That way, it’s much more plausible when they need you to send money for some reason. Some reported excuses have included a new engine for the boat since the scammer claims to be stranded at sea and plane tickets home from another country when the scammer says his mother is in the hospital.

2. I want to come see you, but

Some reported romance scams have included victim stories about losing a lot of money because the other person was supposed to come to visit. When they supposedly arrived at the airport, their ticket was for the wrong flight, and they had to pay a fee. Then it was the need for a visa to enter the country. After that, it was more fees – and the game continued.

3. Money laundering romance scams

How do victims end up in criminal trouble for their part in all this? The scammer gets the victim to accept a deposit in their bank account, withdraw the money, and then turn around and wire that money to someone else. The victim is now complicit in stealing money from other victims and forwarding it to other bad guys. Just because they’re also a victim, that doesn’t erase their criminal role in the scam.

4. Crypto romance scams

Scammers trick the victims into thinking they’re investing in cryptocurrencies. They typically target victims on dating apps and other social media sites. Once the criminal gains the victim’s trust, they claim to know about cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits. The scammer directs the victim to a fraudulent website for an investment opportunity. Once they trick the victim into investing on the platform, they can withdraw a small amount of money to further gain the victim’s trust.

The FBI says after a successful withdrawal, the scammer tells the victim to invest larger amounts of money. When the victim is ready to withdraw more funds, the scammers create reasons why it cannot happen, enticing the victim to provide additional funds. Sometimes a customer service group gets involved, which is also part of the scam. When victims can no longer withdraw any money, scammers typically stop communicating.

What You Can Do to Stay Safe

The internet is filled with authentic opportunities to meet someone special. However, it’s also a breeding ground for scammers. By using reputable dating sites, you might avoid a lot of heartaches. However, the companies who run the sites cannot vet every single profile or message for authenticity. At the same time, social media has made it all too easy for criminals to contact victims with sincere-sounding promises in hopes they will fall for a romance scam.

It’s vital to adopt an air of caution about anyone you meet online to safeguard your heart and your money. A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t fall for it in person, don’t fall for it online. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone who declares undying love too early in the relationship or asks for over-the-top favors too soon should not be trusted. If the person’s background story is a little too shady or falls into the stereotype of the romance scammer, be careful. Most of all, keep your personal information and your money close, and don’t be quick to share either one. Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on our website www.idtheftcenter.org.  

The post was originally published on 2/11/18 and was updated on 9/28/21

  • The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) teams have seen an uptick in subscription renewal scams as a way of stealing your identity. Criminals send emails about auto-renewals for subscriptions in hopes you will click on a malicious link.
  • Identity criminals are after your personal information so they can use it to commit different forms of identity theft and identity fraud.
  • To avoid a subscription renewal scam, ignore any messages about auto-renewals claiming to be from a company where you don’t have a subscription. If it appears to be from a company where you do have a subscription, check the sender’s email address to ensure it’s from the correct company.
  • Don’t click on any links until you confirm the email is legitimate. If the email is a spoof, report it as spam, block the sender and delete the email.
  • To learn more, or if you believe you have received subscription renewal scams, contact the ITRC. Call toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat at www.idtheftcenter.org to speak with an expert advisor.

Subscription renewal scams aren’t new. However, ITRC team members have seen a rise in the number of phishing emails claiming it’s time to renew an annual subscription. The phishing attempt pictured below is a subscription renewal scam one ITRC team member received, claiming to be from Geek Squad.

Scammers use emails like these to get you to click on a malicious link and steal your personal information so they can commit identity crimes with it. Many subscription renewal scams look legitimate. It is important you know how to spot one and the steps to stay safe so your sensitive information isn’t compromised.

Who are the Targets?

Text and email users

What is the Scam?

Criminals pose as a recognized company and send texts and emails to people informing them that their annual subscription has been renewed. The phishing emails go on to ask people to click on a link to review the summary details of their renewal. However, the link is malicious and either installs malware on your computer, steals your personal information or takes you to a fake website.

What They Want

Cybercriminals want you to respond to the subscription renewal scams or click on the malicious link in the message so they can steal your personal information. Identity criminals may proceed to use your information to commit an array of identity crimes.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

  • If you receive a text or email about a subscription renewal from a company you do not have a subscription with, ignore it. Don’t click on any links because they could contain malware. If you receive emails you are not expecting, go directly back to the source to see if the message is real.
  • Check the email sender’s address to make sure it is legitimate if you get an email from a company about a subscription renewal with which you have a subscription. If you are still unsure, reach out to the company directly to confirm the validity of the message.
  • If you know the email is a subscription renewal scam, report it as spam, block the sender and delete the email.

Contact the ITRC toll-free by calling 888.400.5530 or using the live-chat function at www.idtheftcenter.org if you’ve received any subscription renewal scams. ITRC expert advisors will help you create a resolution plan with the steps you need to take.

When a disaster strikes, there’s often a heart-tugging sadness that comes from the powerless feeling to do something useful. As distanced bystanders, we’re left reeling from the news footage of the horrific events, both human-made and natural. Often, we think to ourselves, “If only there were something I could do to help.” Unfortunately, identity criminals use it as an opportunity to prey on people while they are vulnerable and commit disaster relief scams.

Technology has empowered us to support people in their time of need. Charitable giving websites, crowdfunding campaigns, and even the ability to text a donation for a specific cause and then pay it on the following month’s bill have enabled us to lend a hand when needed.

Disasters Strike Everywhere

In the instance of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, nearly three million people were killed, injured or left homeless. Relief efforts were mobilized within mere minutes. The Red Cross immediately set up a text-to-donate option, and more than $43 million came in via text.

Flooding in Louisiana in 2016 left tens of thousands of people to take up residence in emergency shelters due to severe flooding. Sixty people died, and more than 40,000 people lost their homes. Many were rescued by boat with nothing more than their clothes, and citizens outside the flooded area were ready to respond in a big way. Celebrities also vowed to help in fundraising efforts.

In 2021 Haiti was hit with another earthquake, this one a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Over 2,000 people died, and nearly 53,000 houses were destroyed. Volunteers and others at the Haitian-American Community Coalition of SW Florida in Fort Myers shipped hundreds of pounds of food, medical supplies and other items for victims.

Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana, leaving many people stranded and over one million people without power. U.S. Coast Guard members and National Guard units from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas conducted search-and-rescue operations. The Red Cross also set up different ways for people to donate to those in need.

Scammers Take Advantage of the Vulnerable

Sadly, the same technology that lets kind-hearted people participate in helping out has also made it possible for scammers to commit disaster relief scams and bill innocent, well-intentioned people out of their money. They can also steal your personally identifiable information (PII), something that’s far more valuable than a donation of a few dollars.

In 2016, Louisiana authorities warned the public to watch disaster relief scams that crop up online. Only a matter of hours after the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, scammers were already soliciting donations for relief efforts, but pocketing the money. It’s the same with nearly every high-profile incident that affects large numbers of victims. Scammers take advantage of people when they are most vulnerable and commit disaster relief scams.

How to Avoid Disaster Relief Scams

  • Only work with trusted sources and legitimate agencies. Many times, people will hit the streets claiming to be with an agency offering help. However, they take off with your PII or money.
  • Only use trusted and known charities to donate. If you do not recognize the name of a charity soliciting funds, or if it’s a name that’s too “sudden” to be believed, be cautious. Trustworthy charities will have long-standing reputations of meeting the government’s guidelines for a charitable organization. Other new sites should be treated as suspect and possible disaster relief scams.
  • Verify all phone numbers for charities. If you need to contact a charity by phone, check the charity’s official website to see if the number you have is legitimate. If you’re using text-to-donate, check with the charity to ensure the number is legitimate before donating.
  • Verify the information in social media posts. Double-check any solicitation for charitable donations before you donate. Crowdfunding websites may host individual requests for help. However, they are not always vetted by the site or other sources.
  • Ignore suspicious emails and messages. If you receive a suspicious email or message requesting donations or other assistance, ignore it because it is probably a disaster relief scam. Do not click on any links or open any attachments. Scammers regularly use email and messaging platforms for phishing attacks and to spread malware.
  • Report any fraud. To report suspected fraud or disaster relief scams, call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Fraud Hotline toll-free at 866.720.5721. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about phone scams or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about fraud.

Contact the ITRC

If you believe you were the victim of any disaster relief scams, or want to learn more, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). You can speak with an expert advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

The post was originally published on 8/16/2016 and was recently updated on 8/31/2021.  

  • Criminals claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are targeting people with emails as taxpayers continue to receive the third round of Economic Impact Payments (EIP) that began in March 2021.
  • Identity criminals send messages claiming you can receive an EIP Payment. They say the IRS is sending payments each week to qualified individuals as they continue to process tax returns.
  • However, messages like these are IRS scams seeking your personal and financial information to commit identity theft and fraud.
  • The IRS will never email, text, call or send a message on social media to anyone. If you receive a message claiming to be from the IRS, ignore it. You are also encouraged to forward it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov and note that it seems to be a phishing scam seeking your personal information.
  • To learn more, or if you believe you have received IRS scams by email, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat at www.idtheftcenter.org to speak with an expert advisor.

The third round of Economic Impact Payments (EIP) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began to go out in March 2021. However, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) continues to receive messages about IRS scams by email, like the one below.

According to an official IRS notice, the Service is still sending EIP Payments weekly as 2020 tax returns are processed. Criminals have been striking with scams since the first stimulus package was passed in 2020. While many EIP Payments have been received, you should beware of scams asking for payment to receive compensation and remember that the IRS will never call, message or email anyone.

Who are the Targets?

U.S. Taxpayers

What is the Scam?

In the latest IRS scams by email, identity criminals send emails to inboxes claiming that they are eligible to receive a payment after the last annual calculation of their “fiscal activity.” The email goes on to say that each week the IRS will continue to send the third EIP Payments to eligible individuals as they process tax returns. The phishing emails also include a button to “claim my payment.”

What They Want

Scammers want you to either respond or click on a malicious link so they can steal your personal and financial information to commit different forms of identity crimes, including financial identity theft.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

  • Ignore emails, texts or social media messages claiming to be from the IRS. Do not respond to the messages or click on any links or attachments because they could be malicious. Acting on the IRS scams by email, text or social media could lead to having your information stolen. The IRS will not email or message anyone. Do not share any personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers, except on the official www.IRS.gov website or the representative you contacted by calling the IRS.
  • Ignore calls claiming to be from the IRS. While IRS scams by email continue to circulate, identity criminals could call you, too. If you receive an unsolicited call claiming to be from the IRS, ignore it. The IRS will not call anyone unsolicited, either.
  • Send phishing emails to the IRS. The IRS asks anyone who receives a phony email to forward it to phishing@irs.gov and note that it seems to be a phishing scam seeking your information.
  • Report the identity crime. You can report any identity fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting www.IdentityTheft.gov.

If you have received IRS scams by email, text message, social media or by phone, you can also contact the ITRC toll-free by calling 888.400.5530 or using the live-chat function at www.idtheftcenter.org. ITRC expert advisors will help you create a resolution plan with the steps you need to take.

  • President Joseph R. Biden signed an executive order extending a pause on student loan payments to January 31, 2022. However, some borrowers are already reporting a rise in student loan forgiveness scams where people pose as loan providers that can help pay off student loans.
  • Identity thieves ask for information like Social Security numbers (SSNs), federal student aid I.D.s, bank account information and credit card information to commit different forms of identity theft and fraud.
  • Some loan forgiveness solicitations are not attempts to steal your information. However, they are designed to steer you into high-cost loan repayment programs with high interest rates or fees.
  • Be skeptical of anyone who calls or emails you offering to pay off your student loans. Call your loan provider to see if the message was legitimate, and do research on the loan provider the caller claims to represent.  
  • If you fall victim to an identity scam, call your bank or credit card provider to stop payments or close your accounts. Also, contact your loan servicer so they can monitor your account. Finally, check your credit report for any suspicious activity and strongly consider freezing your credit.
  • To learn more about student loan forgiveness scams, or to create a resolution plan, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

Student loan forgiveness scams have been around for a long time. However, they have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. President Joseph R. Biden recently issued an executive order extending student loan relief until January 31, 2022. While the extension is welcome news to many borrowers, it also means student loan forgiveness scams will continue for the foreseeable future. CNBC reports an uptick in student loan forgiveness scams. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has also received inquiries about the scams, like the one below:

While the voicemail might not be a scam, people who receive voicemails like these should use caution. The same advice applies to emails received about student loans resuming, especially if the sender claims to be from a loan provider that was not used to take out the loan. COVID-19 has given criminals and unethical loan processors more ways to take advantage of people who have been hurt financially over the last year and a half. It could be a scammer looking to exploit the pause in payments due to COVID-19, and any potential confusion it brings.

Who are the Targets?

Former and current college students who are paying off student loans

What is the Scam?

Identity thieves call or email people with student loans claiming to be a loan provider or the U.S. Department of Education. They offer to reduce and help pay off monthly payments. Scammers ask for all sorts of personally identifiable information (PII) over the phone so that they can commit different forms of identity crimes like account takeover.

However, not all of the unsolicited student loan calls and emails are identity scams. Some are reported to be attempts to steer borrowers into repayment programs with high fees and high interest rates.

What They Want

Criminals ask for PII like Social Security numbers (SSNs), federal student aid I.D.s, credit card information and bank account information to commit identity theft. Unethical loan processors attempt to enroll borrowers in high-cost loan repayment programs.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

  • To avoid student loan forgiveness scams, be skeptical of anyone who calls you to help you pay off your student loans. Google the name of the loan provider the caller claims to be working for and see if there are any complaints. Also, if you have any doubts, contact your loan provider directly about the inquiry.
  • Look for the name of the program that is being offered to you. CNBC says, in some scams, criminals have claimed they are part of “Biden loan forgiveness” or “CARES Act loan forgiveness,” two programs that do not exist.
  • If you receive an email about student loan forgiveness, check the sender’s email address to make sure the email is coming from an address that ends in .gov.
  • If you provide a scammer with bank account or credit card information, call your bank or credit card provider to stop the payments immediately, and close your accounts if needed. It’s also a good idea to contact your student loan servicer, especially if you provided information such as your federal student aid I.D., so they can monitor your account, and check your credit report for suspicious activity. The ITRC strongly recommends you also freeze your credit.
  • Finally, report the student loan forgiveness scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.IdentityTheft.gov.

To learn more about student loan forgiveness scams, or if you believe you were the victim of a scam, contact the ITRC toll-free by calling 888.400.5530. You can also visit the company website to live-chat with an expert advisor. Go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

  • Advanced child tax credit payments are being sent by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as part of the American Rescue Plan. However, scammers may try to take advantage of the funds with child tax credit scams.
  • The IRS will not call, text, email or message you about a child tax credit. If you receive an unsolicited message, it is a scam.
  • To avoid a child text credit scam, do not respond to any unsolicited messages or click on any unknown links or attachments. Also, report the fraudulent activity to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by emailing reportfraud@ftc.gov and the IRS by calling 800.829.4933.
  • For more information on the child tax credit, who is eligible, how to submit your information and more, click here.
  • If you believe you are the victim of a child tax credit scam or another form of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has sent approximately $15 billion to around 35 million families eligible for the advanced child tax credit. With the process underway, parents should look out for child tax credit scams. No eligible taxpayer has to do anything to receive the money, but criminals may try to say otherwise.

What You Need to Know About the Advanced Child Tax Credit

The advanced child tax credit was included in the American Rescue Plan, and it provides $250 to $300 per month per child to most families from July through December 2021. The IRS is paying half the total credit amount in advance monthly payments. The payments will come via direct deposit, paper check or debit card (more than 85 percent of the funds have been sent by direct deposit). Parents will claim the other half when they file their 2021 income tax return.

The IRS urges taxpayers who usually aren’t required to file federal income tax returns to file a return if they are eligible for Economic Impact Payments or advance payments of the Child Tax Credit. Learn more from the IRS about the advanced child tax credit, who is eligible, how to submit your information and much more.

Child Tax Credit Scams

Criminals are aware of the payments and will likely launch child tax credit scams. Criminals may impersonate IRS representatives just to steal your personally identifiable information (PII) like a Social Security number or bank account information. PII can be used to pose as you on the IRS website and reroute your money to the cybercriminals.  

The ITRC’s CEO Eva Velasquez recently told NerdWallet: “Do not rely on incoming communications. If you didn’t initiate the contact, don’t engage. Caller I.D. cannot be trusted; even if a government agency’s name is listed, thieves may have originated the call and spoofed the caller I.D. display.”

What Should You Do?

The IRS says parents do not have to take any action to receive the advanced child tax credit funds. If you want to opt-out of the IRS payments or change your information, you can do that at www.irs.gov. Here are other tips on how to avoid an advanced child tax credit scam:

  • Don’t respond to solicited communication. The IRS will not call, text, email or message you. If you receive a message claiming to be from the IRS, ignore it. The IRS will mail you anything that is legitimate, and there are ways you can make sure it is from the Service.
  • Don’t click on any unknown links. If you receive a message claiming to be from the IRS, it is important not to click on any links or attachments because they could be malicious and used to steal your personal information. They could also lead you to a fraudulent website that asks you to input sensitive PII.
  • Know who is supposed to receive the check. If you share custody of a child, make sure you know who is supposed to receive the check because sometimes a “missing” check has actually been delivered.
  • Report child tax credit scams and fraud. If someone tries to take advantage of you with a child tax credit scam, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by emailing reportfraud@ftc.gov. If you believe someone stole the check from your mailbox, contact the IRS (800.829.4933) because they can trace the check and replace the money.
  • Track your check. If it is mailed to you, go to www.USPS.com and sign up for Informed Delivery, which emails you photos of your mail before it is delivered. When your check is expected, pick up your mail or have someone do it for you as quickly as possible to avoid a repeat of earlier problems with government check deliveries.

Contact the ITRC

For more information on child tax credit payments, or if you believe you were the victim of a child tax credit scam, contact us. You can speak with an expert advisor at no cost by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the company website. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

Individuals are reporting a new Venmo scam that tries to overpay you out of the blue, but why would a scammer want to pay you? There is no limit to the creativity scammers can employ when trying to separate you from your money. Worse, as new technologies and platforms emerge, criminals come up with even more ways to take advantage of you, leaving you scammed on Venmo.

A new Venmo scam that relies on the Venmo peer-to-peer payment app has users and security experts alike scratching their heads, trying to determine how exactly scammers can benefit. Venmo, owned by PayPal, lets you send money instantly from a stored credit card, bank account or pre-loaded Venmo card to anyone with an account. It is a great way to pay your friend for your part of the rent, takeout food they brought over or concert tickets they bought to ensure the seats are located together.

What do you do if a stranger on Venmo sends you a suspiciously large amount of money? Some potential victims from the Venmo scam have received as much as $1,000 from someone they do not know, only to receive a strange message: “Sent to you by mistake, please return the money.”

It is already starting to sound fishy.

A lot of people have confused this Venmo scam with a fake check scam. In a fake check scam, someone sends you a check. You cash it, then you either return a portion according to their directions or make a purchase on their behalf, like buying them gift cards or sending them electronics. Once the bank finds out the check was fake, that money actually came out of your bank account.

In this Venmo scam, the best guess is that the scammer is only using you, and you do not actually come to any personal harm at first. The scammer uses a stolen credit card number to send you money and says, “Oops! Can you send that back?” You see the money sitting in your account and you do not know that this person is a criminal. So, you do it, leading to you getting scammed on Venmo.

Most likely, the scammer withdraws the money to their Venmo card instead of back on the original credit card. They might also delete the stolen credit card from their account and submit their own card in its place so that the money you are sending them goes to their personal card.

First, you might wonder how anyone could make such a ridiculous mistake as to send you $1,000. Sadly, it happens. With Venmo, you do not have to have any kind of approval to look up someone’s name and try to send them money. However, that is exactly what the scammers are counting on.

Second, you might be tempted to think, “It is not affecting me in any way, so I do not mind sending it back to them.” That can be a dangerous tactic, though. It is unclear whether or not this scam is actually impacting the recipient of the money, but more importantly, you would now be taking part in money laundering of stolen funds.

Third, there is that little voice that might be telling you, “You do not have to send this money back! After all, you would be stealing from a scammer. They deserve it!” Not exactly. Remember, the money still came from someone’s stolen credit card, and that person is a victim. When the victim discovers the charge on their card and sees that it is a Venmo transaction, the company may be more than happy to tell them which Venmo user it went to. In this case, that would be you.

Some users affected by this Venmo scam have reported that they tried to contact Venmo and the results were not very reassuring; they were simply told, “Sure, refund the money.” After all, accidents do legitimately happen.

If you are concerned about how this Venmo scam could affect you, reach out to law enforcement for support. Some forum users have stated they returned the money only after waiting for a reasonable amount of time, but again, that advice is more for avoiding a fake check scam. If you believe you were scammed on Venmo, you can also contact Venmo and discuss suspending your account once you return the money so that no further transactions can go through from that sender.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

This post was originally published on 11/4/19 and was updated on 7/14/21


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Gift card scams are nothing new, but Google Play gift card scams provide thieves with a different avenue to go after your money. While criminals have long relied on prepaid debit cards or iTunes gift cards for everything from IRS scams to fake online buying and selling, one of the latest “currencies” is Google Play cards. As a result, Google Play gift card scams are on the rise and may already be targeting you or your loved ones.

You may have already learned about avoiding scams involving iTunes gift cards. These cards, which are only intended to be used for Apple Store purchases became a favorite tool for scammers who demanded untraceable payment in this card currency. Now with more criminals aware of the opportunity, the go-to choice for scammers is quickly becoming Google Play gift card scams. Here are some of the ways scammers target consumer finances by demanding payment through Google Play gift cards.

Impersonation Scams

Every malicious thing you have heard about iTunes gift cards, prepaid debit cards and even wire transfers is also true about Google Play gift cards. Callers pretending to be with the IRS, with law enforcement, with medical offices, bogus charities and other plausible outlets, may call and demand payment via gift cards. Remember, no credible agency or company will ask for an untraceable payment via gift card.

Reselling Gift Cards

There are multiple online platforms where users can sell unwanted, unused gift card balances. Criminals have taken advantage of this opportunity and steal the balances from unsuspecting sellers. One commonly reported Google Play gift card scam is the three-way call. The purpose of the call is to have you dial the number on the back of your card and verify the balance while the potential buyer listens. That makes a lot of sense when you think about it. However, as you are entering the card number on your phone’s keypad, the listener is recording the tones. After you end the call and before the scammer buys your card, they simply use the recorded tones to transfer all the money off your card and onto one they own. Avoid Google Play gift card scams by only using reputable sites and verifying buyer reputation when possible.

Balance Inquiry Scams

Checking the balance on your gift cards is a good idea. It helps you know how much to spend and how much you have left on a reloadable card. However, hackers have invented a tool that allows them to wipe gift cards clean by attacking the computer network that keeps up with the balances. In order to avoid that kind of theft, it is a good idea to use your gift cards shortly after receiving them. Also, remember that some types of cards can start to lose value each month if you do not spend them. You can avoid this with a Google Play card by installing the card in your mobile wallet on your Android device.

Protect Card Numbers

Google Play gift cards, just like other gift cards, are only as safe as the information on the magnetic stripe or in the assigned number on the back. If you lose your card or someone gets the number, they have access to your money. Never share your card information with someone who contacts you, and never verify your gift card number for someone.

Providing Emergency Help

One common Google Play gift card scam is for a person to claim they need a Google Play card for some reason, such as to download an app they must have for work or to buy a movie or book they need for school. The only catch is supposedly they are living in a location where they cannot buy the cards. They reach out to you on social media and offer to pay you to buy them a card, giving you the price of the card and a little something extra for your time. Once you read them the information from the back of the card, they will drain the funds off it and you will not be reimbursed. Remember, there is no valid reason why someone should need you to buy them a card, and you will be violating terms of service for gift cards if you provide one.

Google asks its users to remember two very important truths about Google Play gift card scams, and these are true of any kind of reloadable payment card. First, it can never be used for any purpose other than downloading content from the Google Play Store. Second, you must protect the number like cash. No one will ever have a genuine reason to ask you for the number from the back of a card. If you have been a victim of a gift card scam, report the instance to the Federal Trade Commission.

Of course, the Identity Theft Resource Center is here to help. Speak to an identity theft advisor for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

The post was originally published on 6/25/2019 and was updated on 7/13/2021


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