How NOT to Get Swindled by Gift Card Scams (Like I Almost Did)
I work for Broadcat as a graphic designer, and while I’m not a compliance pro, I work with enough of them to pick up all the tricks and tidbits to avoid potential data and privacy breaches. However, I hadn’t updated my scam database in a while and I almost fell for the dreaded gift card scam. Wondering what this is? Here’s the breakdown of one version…
- A scammer pretends to be your boss, such as the CEO.
- They text you and say they need your help with something (lucky you!). Then they ask you to go to the store and get some gift cards for them—likely hundreds of dollars worth—and scratch off the back label.
- You send pictures of the numbers on the back and now your “CEO” has the gift card info. They say they’ll repay you later and give you a pat on the head for being a good employee.
- Plot twist: They never pay you back! You got scammed, are now out a good chunk of change, and have possibly compromised your fellow coworkers depending on the information you gave them.
…and I almost fell for it! 🤦🏻♀️
How? Well, let me walk you through what happened in the very far off past of…last October. Here’s an account of the things I did right, as well as the things I probably should have done instead. Hopefully you can laugh with me at my experience and take some helpful tidbits for the next time someone tries to punk you.
This was literally me the rest of that day.| Source: jegersimen via tenor.com
So what happened?
I am not a morning person, and it just so happened that this morning was one where I had to be a grownup and do all the things. I was rushing from pet-sitting, straight to a doctor’s appointment, and then I had to go directly to work after that. All before noon. 😊
Somewhere in between the pet-sitting and the doctor’s appointment I got a text from our lovely CEO, Alex, saying that he was in a conference and couldn’t talk on the phone at the moment but needed my help with something.
Except it wasn’t Alex. It was an impostor!
Dun dun DUNNNNN...| Source: nick.com
For way longer than I should have, I believed this was my boss. And all because I didn’t do one thing:
Tip #1: Look at the phone number of your “boss” that’s texting you.
To be fair, getting a text from our CEO isn’t something that would be considered super strange. We’re a small company. It’s not like I’m an employee for Amazon, and Jeff Bezos suddenly decided to text me (is he even a CEO anymore? He was when Bo Burnham wrote this NSFW song, so I’m rolling with it).
Editor's Note: The song isn’t for sensitive ears. Or ears that are in an office.
However, I could have totally avoided going down the rabbit hole if I had just looked at the phone number. ☎️
But I didn’t. Cause I was sleepy, anxious about going to the doctor, and low-key hoping that nobody was going to need me that morning. But if Alex was texting me, then it must be important! What did he need? An edit to a presentation? A PNG? A cute image of Broadcat? We have plenty of those to spare, so I did yet another thing I shouldn’t have done.
Tip #2: Don’t respond.
I texted back Not-Alex and asked them if they could get Rachel or Joey to help instead. This is the part that I beat myself up about the most. 😔 Not only did I confirm to the scammer that they had a hook, I just gave them two of my coworkers’ names for them to try to scam after they were done scamming me.
However, Not-Alex ignored this (and the fact that I told them that I was OOO heading to a doctor’s appointment) and asked if I could stop by a store—any store—and pick up some gift cards for them. They needed them for a presentation.
Admittedly, I thought it was weird that Alex was asking this of me, but I thought maybe he overlooked the part where I said I was driving to a doctor’s appointment. Or maybe because I was already on the road, I was available to stop somewhere and do this favor. Honestly, my logic was doing loop-de-loops that morning.
And the gift cards? Perhaps he was going to use them for an in-person meeting we had coming up (never mind that we have several job aids saying that gift cards are a cash-equivalent and not appropriate to hand out as gifts).
Again, my logic was on Fruit Loops that morning. | Source: Paramount Movies
So, I found myself at a Walgreens at nine in the morning sending pictures of the gift card rack to Not-Alex. Just so that Not-Alex could see what gift cards were available of course! Which, by the way:
Tip #3: Don’t send them any pictures or click on any links.
Pictures and links can send you down a serious data breaching rabbit hole. Thankfully there weren’t any links for me to click (yet), but at the rate I was going, this scammer could have taken so much from not only me, but from Broadcat as well, all because I wasn’t paying attention for ten minutes. Yeah, that’s how much time this entire thing took. Ten minutes, and I could have kissed my money goodbye.
It wasn’t until Not-Alex asked me to buy five of the $100 Apple gift cards, scratch off the back labels, and send pictures of the card labels to them (I’d be reimbursed later), that I realized something was up.
It was there in front of the gift card rack that I looked at the phone number. (TIP NO. 1, PEOPLE!) It was different from the number I had saved in my phone for Actual-Alex. My brain started to wake up and I remembered a custom project I had worked on involving a gift card scam similar to what was happening to me at that moment.
So, I texted the number for Alex that I had on my phone and asked if he was using a different phone to ask me for gift cards. Thankfully, Alex answered almost immediately and pretty much confirmed that I was being scammed. Luckily, I hadn’t bought the gift cards yet (thank goodness, because refunds for scratched-off gift cards can be pretty difficult to get).
Unfortunately, I have one more regret to add to this story. ⬇️
Tip #4: Take screenshots.
Believing that I had outsmarted Not-Alex, I sent them a snarky reply letting them know that I had them figured out and that they weren’t going to be getting any gift cards from me today! Then I deleted the entire conversation and blocked the phone number because I wanted to purge this sneaky scammer from my phone.
Source: Despicable Me
However, when Actual-Alex and other employees at Broadcat asked if I had taken any screenshots of the conversations, I had nothing. They had nothing to investigate because I had deleted everything and didn’t have any kind of data recovery set up on my phone to do that sort of thing. (You can bet I have it now!) They didn’t know how much information I gave to the scammer(s) and only had my memory to go off of.
However, in telling Actual-Alex right away when I suspected something was off, I did do one thing right:
Tip #5: Let somebody know IMMEDIATELY (literally the only thing I did right).
Because I told Alex right away, he was able to send word to other Broadcat employees and alert them that there was an impostor asking for gift cards. Once I got to work that day, I was embarrassed about the whole situation, but was eventually reassured to know that all was forgiven (thank you Alex and everyone at Broadcat!🙏) and now, I’m a whole lot savvier when it comes to scam awareness.
Tip #6: Stay in the know about what scams are out there.
Let’s face it, scammers are only getting smarter and sneakier.👹 They’re no longer the obnoxious, “Congrats you’ve won a free iPad!” web advertisements or the phone calls from the “IRS.” They’re constantly changing and evolving with the times, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself at the receiving end of one like I almost did. If it does end up happening to you, remember to (1) stay calm, (2) double-check the contact info, (3) don’t respond or click anything, (4) take screenshots, and (5) let somebody know immediately.