Beware of Balance Check Scams

Avoid scammers by spotting phony balance check websites.

Date:Nov. 21, 2019

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As part of our commitment to helping educate consumers about gift card fraud, InComm offers this informative blog about package tampering scams complete with valuable tips on shopping safely for gift cards. 

 

You’ve heard the term “phishing” plenty of times; it’s a broad term defining a tactic in which scammers try to learn your password, personally identifying information or other sensitive data in order to access your account for nefarious purposes. Phishers pose as legitimate institutions and reach out via email, phone, or text messages so that targets will trust them and supply the requested information.


While people typically associate this behavior with social engineering requests for bank accounts, social security numbers, or sensitive work data, scammers are also using gift cards as a medium for theft-by-deception. One popular method is setting up a fake website disguised as a balance check website for gift cards. Phishers will coerce unsuspecting victims into visiting fraudulent websites and delivering gift card funds right into their waiting hands.
 

Here’s how it works:

  • The phisher sends an email requesting that you check the balance for your gift cards
     
  • The phisher will provide a link to a website – this website may look legitimate and may even have a real-sounding URL.
     
  • Once you plug your gift card number into the site, the scammer has it. They quickly transfer or spend those funds, and the gift card is drained of value.

 

Scammers use different tricks to lead people to these phony websites. They may send mass emails with vague requests to check the balance on a card. They may coerce people into purchasing the cards first, then direct them to the website (or otherwise requesting the card information to transfer the funds). And anyone selling a gift card online should be dubious of potential “buyers” who first send such a link requesting confirmation of the balance on the card.
 

Fortunately, following some basic tips can help keep you and your gift cards safe from phishing scams.

  • Never follow a link provided by someone else to check your gift card balance.
     
  • Only check your balance by calling the number on the back of your card, visiting the website provided on the back of the card, or visiting the gift card brand’s official website.
     
  • Don’t succumb to pressure to check your balance immediately. Scammers of all types use high-pressure tactics and generate a sense of immediacy. If you receive an email requesting a balance check, take a deep breath – and if you’re in doubt, check your balance through the safer channels outlined on your gift card.

 

Scams often go unreported because the victims are embarrassed that the fell for the ruse. Don’t be. Anyone can get scammed, and if it happens to you, reporting it helps authorities stop scammers – and prevent others from making the same mistakes. If you get scammed, you should contact:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC); online at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877-FTC-HELP. The FTC will use your information to create public warning campaigns about gift card fraud.
     
  • Your State Attorney’s Office (SAO); which can be found via the U.S. Department of Justice website. Your SAO monitors reported scams in your state and will also use your complaint to create public warning campaigns.
     
  • If the scammer used a legitimate business or government agency as a cover to con you, you should contact them as well. These entities would be grateful to learn that their names are being used to perpetrate gift card scams – and will usually notify patrons and post a warning on their website to prevent others from being victimized.

 

Millions of consumers use gift cards for gift-giving and as financial tools. Knowing the value on a card is important for planning your purchases, but consumers should take precaution to make sure they aren’t accidentally sending their full card balance to crooks online. By only checking a card balance through the information on the card or the official merchant’s website, consumers can help avoid this scam and improve gift card safety for everyone.

FTC Complaint Assistant