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Consumer Alert: The Craigslist Gift Card Scam


Craigslist Gift Card ScamGift cards are one of the most popular types of gifts, both to give and to receive. They are quick and convenient to buy, and they allow the recipient to purchase a present that they truly want.

During the holiday season, especially during these difficult economic times, it is common for consumers to try to get discounts on a number of items, including gift cards. Although it is possible to buy discounted gift cards, consumers have to be extra careful when buying a gift card from a seller on Craigslist. As it turns out, some of these gift cards aren’t what they seem, and many Craigslist users have already been scammed.

How a Craigslist Gift Card Scam Works

Scammers pull off Craigslist gift card scams in a few different ways. Most individuals who have been scammed by purchasing a gift card off of Craigslist say that they replied to an ad that listed a gift card for sale. Usually, this card was being sold at a deep discount. The scammers typically claim that they need the cash instead of the card because they are in some type of financial crisis or dilemma.

Generally, the scammer arranges to meet with the buyer at a nearby location. He doesn’t usually arrange to meet at the store where the gift card can be used, though. Before money exchanges hands, the scammer often insists that the buyer checks the balance of the gift card by calling a number on the back of the card. During the phone call, the purchaser generally becomes convinced that the card is legitimate and they are getting a great deal.

It isn’t until later that the gift card buyer realizes that he has been duped. Unfortunately, he usually realizes he was scammed when the gift card is declined at the cash register for having insufficient funds.

There are a few ways that a scammer may be able to pull off this seemingly difficult scam.

  • One of the most common ways for scammers to pull this trick off is by purchasing a gift card at a popular retail store, keeping the receipt, and jotting down the card number. When the scammer meets with the buyer, the buyer checks the balance of the card and finds that it still has money on it. After the buyer pays for the card, however, the scammer calls the gift card company or visits the store where it was purchased to report the card stolen. The balance on the original card is then wiped out, and a new card is sent to the scammer.
  • Another common way for scammers to pull this sort of trick off involves jotting the card number down before meeting the seller. After the money changes hands, the scammer quickly gets online and makes a purchase using the card number and security code.
  • A less common method of the Craigslist gift card scam involves physically switching a valid gift card with a zero-balance or inactive gift card. This method is generally more difficult, but it is entirely possible, especially for an experienced scammer.

How to Avoid Craigslist Gift Card Scams

Although many individuals may think that they have too much common sense to be scammed, sadly, this is not always the case. Short of avoiding Craigslist altogether, there are a few things that can be done to avoid these types of scams.

  • Don’t buy a gift card from someone who calls you from a blocked, restricted, or unavailable number and refuses to give you his phone number. Not knowing a seller’s number can make it very difficult to track a scammer after you have reported the theft to the police.
  • Don’t buy a gift card if the PIN number has been revealed. This makes it much easier for the scammer to jot down the number and use the card later.
  • Meet the seller at a store where the card can be used. You may also want purchase something with the gift card before the seller even leaves your side. This item can later be returned, if you do not want it.
  • Finally, always remember the cardinal rule for avoiding scams: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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