Why gift cards are gold mines for scammers

Originally published at: Why gift cards are gold mines for scammers | Boing Boing


Some stores who sell gift cards are training their staff to recognize when people are buying quantities of high value gift cards at self-checkout, and to approach the customers with a friendly offer of assistance.

They’re probably not making a big dent in the overall scam economy, but each person they assist is usually extremely grateful to have been saved a crippling loss of money, and the mental anguish of falling victim to a scam.


I always found the “meaning” that comes with a gift card very odd. It’s cash that someone can only be spent at one business. But giving someone actual cash they can spend anywhere…c’mon put some thought into it.

Humans. :roll_eyes:


Unfortunately many of the scammer scripts specifically address this and advise people “If they ask why, just say its for XXX, because blahblahblah.” Hopefully there’s enough people that will listen to the staff still!

1 Like

I just listened to most of that episode, and I didn’t get the question answered… Why gift cards are the preferred currency of scammers. It only gave a bunch of long stories about folks who got scammed. So… what do the scammers do with the card info? I’m interested in that underground economy.


I’m not positive on all of these, but having watch a ton of scambaiter videos I’ve picked up a few ways they launder the cards. And it is all laundering, but the cards let that be done with no actual financial institutions involved, and the rather open nature of these methods means little to no accountability or risk
Easiest, I’ve heard there’s some places (the scare-quotes dark web!) that will sell gift cards at a discount, so, $500 card for $400 cash/crypto whatever. Not sure how prevalent/easy those are.

If its a Googleplay card (which are very popular with scammers it seems), you can create a quick app, load it with some in app purchases, and launder your balance through that. Google gets a 30% cut, but that’s good for a reputable company to launder your money.

Amazon or Walmart cards, can setup a third party seller with an item no one would ever actually buy, use your balance to purchase it, ship some nonsense to complete the transaction (this, it is assumed, is linked to those occasional weird stories of random crap/seeds/whatever people get in the mail), same as before, Amazon or Walmart get a cut, but fully laundered.

Best Buy is the one I am less certain on. Googleplay seems to be the most popular request, but Best Buy is as well, and nothing jumps to mind on those.


I think the idea is that with a gift card, the recipient obtains something tangible that they can attach a sentiment such as, “oh, bunbain got me this sweater,” or “bunbain paid for our lovely dinner last night”. Cash is likely to be tossed in the bin with all the other cash, or into a bank account to be absorbed by credit card debt for no particular thing already purchased. So it’s immediately forgotten.

Donations are typically in cash; and to give someone cash for their birthday can connote a certain attitude, like, “I have money and you don’t,” or “sorry you’re so poor,” which can be insulting. Well, maybe not insulting to children anyway.

1 Like

Because they are less easily traced (compared to bank transfers).
Either sell them on or buy high-end electronic goods and sell those.

I use to give Amazon cards with notes like “I think you would enjoy The Peace War by Verner Vinge, but I wasn’t sure if you had it or not. Please get yourself a book you’ll like!”. My thoughts on whether I want to support Amazon have shifted over the last ~25 years or so, and I don’t do that anymore.

1 Like

My dad got hit by this kind of thing a few years ago and it was all iTunes gift cards. I had the same “WTF?” reaction and did a bit of research… this was the most feasible answer I could find as well. Also, in some parts of the world, there’s been a whole barter/grey market system for centuries that this now ties into and those areas overlap a good chunk of where scammers operate.

We like them in our family, because for things like clothing, you’re likely to need to exchange it for fitment anyway. We make a fun afternoon of it, going to the mall and helping each other spend our cards. It’s a nice family day and takes the stress out of gift buying for the other person.

Just because it’s not your thing doesn’t mean there’s no value in it.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.