HOUSTON - The Better Business Bureau is warning that gift card scams have tripled over the last three years. The Federal Trade Commission says one in four people have been scammed out of an average of $700.
In a recent study, the BBB found gift cards have become the payment form of choice for scammers because the money is often untraceable.
"He was calling from Apple. There was some alert," said Belinda.
That phone call caught Belinda's attention.
"He said the way to correct this is for me to put x amount of money in," Belinda said, "by buying cards from Target."
Belinda says she put $5,000 on Target gift cards and paid him. $5,000 she worked hard for through her cleaning company. $5,000 she's says she's now learned she lost to a scam.
"That's what burned me more than anything. My physical labor, the sweat, the integrity that I've built. They took that away," said Belinda, who is speaking out to warn others.
The BBB study found a growing variety of scams, including some work from home offers, selling fake cars online, or people posing as government or utility workers, are all using the same M-O. They ask for payment through gift cards.
"Anybody can impersonate government officials, even utility workers, basically saying if you don't pay us today by gift card, we're going to cut off your water, or the electric company threatening to cut off your lights," explained Jennifer Salazar with the Better Business Bureau.
Salazar says scammers request gift cards such as eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes and Amazon. The scammers tell victims to put money on the cards, then read them the card numbers over the phone. The scammers drain the card and the victims never get whatever it is they paid for.
And before you buy a gift card in a store, be cautious. Salazar says thieves can write down card numbers, then use the money you put on the card.
"You want to really look at the back and make sure the back hasn't been tampered with. Make sure it doesn't look odd. And you want to get the receipt. Always get the receipt," she said.
Bottom line: If anyone calls you saying you need to pay up front for a job, product, or service, but only accepts gift cards, hang up.
If you are victim of a gift card scam, you can report it to the gift card provider as well as file a complaint with the following agencies: