Beware: Scammers offering free gift cards to steal your information

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This year, gift card spending is on track to exceed $27 billion, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). It’s important now more than ever to ensure the gift card is legitimate before purchasing. 

That’s essential, if you’re buying online. 

The cyber scheme is simple: scammers start by sending you a message with an offer for a free gift card.

Fraudsters have been known to pose as big-name brands like Target, Starbucks, Costco, Shell, Zara, Winstream, Wal-Mart, Footlocker and Asada. Fraudulent messages can pop-up on a variety of platforms. 

They’re abundant on Facebook, on websites or in your email inbox. Messages often sport catchy headlines — like “only a few left”  — to induce a sense of urgency and encourage you to act without thinking.

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urges you to think before acting.

Beware that clicking on an unfamiliar link can infect your computer with malware that can be damaging and difficult to remove. 

If you do click the link, the scammer typically asks that you fill out a form to receive the free gift. The form then demands compromising information that can lead to identity theft. What’s more — the gift never comes.

Do not submit any personal information online without verifying the web address and origin of the link, email or webpage. If you’re unable to do this, the FTC suggests you contact the retailer directly to inquire about the offer. 

Several retailers report they will rarely offer free gift cards online, or otherwise. Retailers say legitimate online offers are usually marketing campaigns that urge you to ‘like’ a page or follow an account. 

Some scammers even head to airports, malls and grocery stores looking for a steal the old-fashioned way: face-to-face. Fraudsters may even approach you with a discounted gift card in-hand. 

This type of thief is known to purchase those gift cards with stolen credit cards or offer gift cards without any money on them. 

If you are approached, the BBB suggests you immediately decline the offer.

If you do accept, check the back to make sure the PIN number is not exposed and that the packaging has not been tampered with.

The FTC says that retailers will rarely give something away for nothing. So the cliche stands: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

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