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Gift card scams are nothing new, but there is a new avenue for thieves 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, the latest “currency” 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.

Experian proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.


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If you have not filed your tax return yet, the deadline is looming. If you have filed already, you are probably still very aware of the date as you anxiously await your return. Whether you have filed or not, there is a good chance you have encountered one or two tax scams this year or in previous. Many scammers take advantage of the lack of knowledge and fear that comes with the April 15th tax day. While there may be fewer calls from shady people demanding your tax information after the 15th passes, that only means that tax scams will take on a new look and scammers will adapt.

First, remember that not everyone will file by the April 15th deadline. Whether due to late activity or previously-approved extensions, a significant number of consumers will mail or e-send those returns in after the date. Scammers know this, and therefore, have no intention of cutting off their activity. It is important to be on the lookout even after the deadline has passed and after you have filed your return.

Of course, extensions or late filing only applies to some people. If you have already filed but a caller tells you that your return was never received, you can probably have a good laugh and hang up the phone. Why? Because the IRS does NOT call you, but rather sends letters through the postal service instead (if you have not received any confirmation that your postal return was received, you might check in with the IRS to be safe, but they still will not call you).

What if the caller has a different story? What if someone posing as an IRS agent tells you that your return had an error, or that they suspect you have been the victim of identity theft since someone else sent in a return in your name? Those scenarios can be very frightening, and that means these tax scams are a lot harder to ignore.

First of all, the same rule from above still applies: the IRS will not call you, even for something as serious as those situations. You will receive a mailed letter if there is an issue, and this letter will provide you with the information you need to take your next steps. Even if your caller ID says “IRS,” you should be very careful since it is most likely a scam.

Next, it is important to develop a good habit of safeguarding your information, no matter who calls or why they claim to need it. If you are ever asked to verify your identity by providing anything more sensitive than your name or home address, do not comply. Instead, take down the caller’s information and contact their company or agency yourself using a verified contact method.

Also, if you are ever told you failed to pay your taxes correctly or owe a penalty, you will never be required to make an immediate payment over the phone (see previous mentions of phone calls). You will have time to look into the matter and take appropriate action. This is very important: you cannot pay with an iTunes or other gift cards, no matter what the scammer tells you. You will also never be required to use an untraceable method like a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Your own check, a money order, or a cashier’s check are all valid forms of payment.

Finally, tax scams rely on the fear factor of messing up where the IRS is concerned but do not fall for this scare tactic. The burden of proof has been on the IRS’ shoulders for quite some time, not on the individual taxpayer. Do not be frightened into handing over your money or your identity to a thief.


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.

Read next: Imposter Scams Were The Most Reported Consumer Complaint

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the U.S. government agency tasked with protecting consumers. Whether it is issuing warnings and recalls about dangerous products, policing companies for misleading advertising or helping write regulations in regards to harmful products, the FTC is certainly the unsung hero that protects all of us on a daily basis.

The FTC has another crucial job, it is the go-to department for reporting scams, fraud, and other related crimes. As such, the FTC keeps tabs on the types of consumer reports that are filed each year and releases this comprehensive information in its annual report from the Consumer Sentinel Network.

The 2018 report has been released with a shocking new finding: for the first time since the FTC began tabulating and reporting the complaints, imposter scams topped the list of most commonly reported consumer fraud.

An imposter scam occurs when a criminal uses a false identity or persona to trap you. It might be someone pretending to be a Microsoft employee, a Google ad salesman, someone from your bank or credit company, an IRS agent, or a customer service representative from your utility company, just to name a few examples. Using this false persona, the criminal alerts you to some plausible reason why you must pay money or face a consequence of some kind.

For obvious reasons involving threats of jail time and significant penalties, government imposter scams are commonplace. Scams involving phony IRS or Social Security agents made up about half of the 535,417 imposter scam attempts that were reported to the FTC last year. The thought of a fraudulent charge on your credit can make some scam victims comply with a banking imposter scam, but thinking that they have broken the law with regards to their taxes is far scarier.

What is interesting about the increase in government imposter scams is that it is branching out from the norm. IRS scams were commonplace for a long time, as a caller would contact you and claim you have failed to pay your taxes. Now, Social Security imposters contact potential victims and frighten them into thinking their SSN has been suspended or their benefits will not be issued that month unless they verify their identities.

In either case, the goal is money or information. If a scammer can convince you to pay or provide your personally identifiable information, then they can cash in. Sometimes the scammer even manages to acquire both a payment and your data, which will then be used for identity theft.

Unfortunately, as the number of complaint reports to the FTC increased, so did the number of losses that victims reported. With nearly three million different consumer reports made to the FTC last year, the total amount of loss was $1.48 billion, a 38 percent increase compared to the previous year.


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.

Read next: The How and Why of Tax Identity Theft