Threatening phone calls requesting payments with gift cards
Phone scammers are demanding gift cards and threatening people with:
- arrest over unpaid tax debts,
- deportation, or
- seeking payment of fees to access a government grant.
Gift cards – such as those for iTunes, Google Play, Steam and others – are being increasingly demanded by scammers as the preferred payment method, with victims being tricked into making purchases worth thousands of dollars.
The victims are usually caught up in telco or tax phone scams where they have to pay a certain amount to supposedly help catch someone who has hacked into their computer and accessed their bank account or pay a bogus tax debt urgently.
So far for 2020, WA ScamNet has received 161 reports of tax phone scams with 26 victims in WA reporting losses totalling $259,000. The highest loss amount by one victim was $60,000. This compares with 2019 figures when $100,450 was lost between 22 victims and a total of 51 reports.
The scam first came to WA ScamNet’s attention in 2016 and over time scammers have continued to use gift cards as a form of payment. As a rise in gift cards bought by victims was recorded, Consumer Protection worked with retailers to disseminate scam warning information with some implementing processes for limiting gift card transactions. Scammers have wised to this and have been asking victims to lie when questioned in store or have asked them to make multiple trips to various outlets.
The community needs to be aware that no company, organisation or government department will ever demand iTunes, Google Play, Steam cards or any other gift card as a form of payment.
How the scam works
There are several common types of scams involving gift cards.
ATO impersonation scams
The scammer pretends to be from the Australian Taxation Office and claims there is a warrant for their victim’s arrest. The scammer asks the victim to pay an immediate ‘fine’ using gift cards or Bitcoin, and claims police will come and arrest them if not.
The scammer calls and pretends to be from a law-enforcement agency or internet provider and convinces the victim they are trying to trace the location of a hacker who has compromised the victim’s computer. They claim they can do this by sending money from the victim’s bank account or via gift card serial numbers.
Most of the victims are seniors who may not understand what iTunes cards are, but are told by scammers that they are an acceptable payment method and they feel obliged to follow instructions from people they believe are in authority.
Once the victims provide the card numbers, the scammers are presumably able to on-sell the vouchers to convert them into cash.
How to protect yourself
People need to be aware of this tactic by scammers and inform their elderly relatives, friends and neighbours about it so they will think twice when called by scammers and asked to purchase iTunes cards in response to a variety of pretences.
If you get a call like this, we advise you:
- Confirm the caller’s name, title and why they are calling.
- Hang up and do not comply with their instructions. If you speak with scammers, you enable them to obtain information from you to help them target you further.
- If they claim your bank account has been accessed or hacked, hang up immediately and contact your bank.
- Never send money or give financial/personal details to someone you don’t know or trust.
- Never provide remote access to your computer to someone you don’t know.
- If they are requesting payment through gift cards, be wary. Ask for them to put this request in a letter.
- Do not respond to numbers supplied in an automated call.
- Delete any messages left on an answerphone or voicemail service.
- Speak to someone you trust about the scam call to put your mind at ease.
We would also urge shop assistants to question customers who request to purchase large amounts of iTunes gift cards and alert them to the fact that they could be a victim of a scam and make them think twice about their actions.
Previously scammers have asked for payment via:
- pre-paid debit cards, such as ones from Australia Post;
- electronic payment vouchers including Ukash; or
- wire transfer like Western Union or Moneygram.
Government agencies do not accept payment by these methods either.
Resource for retailers and organisations
The following poster can be printed and used by retailers and organisations as a warning to consumers about this particular scam. It can be displayed around aisles or stands where iTunes gift cards are sold.
- Scam Warning iTunes Gift Cards Poster A4 [ pdf (1.54MB) ]