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.
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 6/25/19 and was updated on 7/13/21
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