Tennessee officials warn of gift card scams


The Federal Trade Commission says Tennesseans lost nearly $1 million this year to prepaid gift card scams, an increase of 44 percent from 2017.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Division of Consumer Affairs wants to warn consumers of an increasingly common scam where callers pretend to be with a federal or state agency contacting them about a fictitious debt and demanding payment via prepaid gift card or else face punishment.

TDCI says no government agency will ever demand payment in the form of a reloadable gift card. The group offered the following tips: 


  • Always remember that a government agency will never ask for payment in the form of a 
  • prepaid gift card. If you receive a call from someone portraying him or herself as a government official, but they ask for a gift card as payment, hang up the phone. 
  • Never read or text someone the PIN number on the back of a gift card. The number is as good as cash in the scammers’ pocket. 
  • Reputable businesses, like technology support companies and shop-at-home services, don’t ask for gift cards as payment. If you’re being asked by a caller to pay for a product or service with a gift card, proceed with caution because it is likely a scam.  
  • If you’re buying gift cards as gifts, make sure to buy them from a reputable and known source. 
  • Always treat gift cards like cash and protect them as you would your wallet. 


  • Be suspicious of apps, online advertisements, or websites offering prices that seem suspiciously lower than retail prices at trusted retailers.
  • Consider paying with a credit card that offers fraud protection when possible.
  • Only shop on secure websites.  Look for https in the address (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and for a lock symbol.
  • Some retailers and delivery services need extra help at the holidays, but beware of solicitations that require you to share personal information online or pay for a job lead. Apply in person or go to retailers’ main websites to find out who is hiring.
  • Several trusted companies offer charming and personalized letters from Santa, but scammers mimic them to get personal information from unsuspecting parents. Check with https://www.bbb.org/to find out which ones are legitimate.
  • Be cautious if you get a call or email from a family member or friend claiming to be in an accident, arrested, or hospitalized while traveling in another country. Never send money unless you confirm with another family member that it’s true.


  • Don’t assume that charity recommendations on social media platforms or blogs have already been vetted. Research the charity yourself.
  • Find out what percentage of your donation will go to the charity and whether you will be charged any fees for making a donation through a fundraising platform website.
  • Check to see if the charity is registered with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
  • Websites posing as charities can sometimes look identical to the real organization. These fraudulent websites will often ask for personal or financial information over an unsecure connection or may download harmful malware into your computer. Look for a padlock symbol or “https” before the web address indicating that it is secure.
  • Avoid being pressured to make an immediate donation. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to get more information.
  • If you didn’t initiate contact, avoid giving personal or financial information over the phone.
  • Never write out a check or give cash to an individual solicitor. Write out checks to the name of the organization or use a credit card.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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