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When people take a moment to report fraud, identity theft, or questionable business practices to the FTC, they’re giving consumers everywhere a “gift” of sorts. We use those reports – we get millions every year – to warn others about the latest scams. They also serve as an important source of information for our law enforcement efforts. The FTC just announced a new development that makes those reports even more valuable.

Until now, we have released aggregated consumer complaint data once a year through our Consumer Sentinel Network. But that changes today. Now we’ll be making that information more usable by releasing it quarterly in an interactive online format. The new tool will offer a more up-to-date picture of what consumers are telling us. Looking for a timely snapshot of what’s going on? The system now empowers you to get that information. But if you’re digging for details, you can search by types of fraud, by state, and by a number of other variables.

As part of this project, we’re releasing our first Consumer Protection Data Spotlight – a new kind of publication that uses the data to illuminate important stories we’re hearing from consumers. Today’s Data Spotlight focuses on a disturbing trend: scammers’ growing preference for payment by gift cards, particularly iTunes and Google Play cards.

The percentage of consumers who told the FTC they paid a scammer with a gift card like Google Play or iTunes or with reload cards like MoneyPak has increased 270% since 2015. Gift and reload cards are now the #1 reported method of payment for imposter scams, in which criminals impersonate a government official, a tech support representative, a utility company, or a loved one in trouble (“Grandpa, I’m in the hospital overseas and need help now!”). Their methods morph, but they have one thing in common: They all want money. And as reports from consumers demonstrate, in increasing numbers, they want it in the form of gift cards.

Why gift cards? They’re attractive to scammers for two reasons. First, gift cards allow them to remain anonymous. Second, once the consumer gives the scammer the number on the back of the card, the scammer can access the money, and it’s difficult to reverse the transaction. The FTC’s advice to consumers is simple: If someone tells you to pay with a gift card, don’t. Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments.

The Data Spotlight also offers insights for businesses – both gift card issuers and retailers. Scammers’ insistence on payment by gift card is not a once-in-a-blue-moon phenomenon. It’s a growing threat happening every single day across the country, causing devastating losses to consumers. In other words, the data point to the conclusion that gift cards have become a payment method of choice for crooks and con artists. That doesn’t just harm the thousands of people who report the fraud to the FTC. It can tarnish a brand, too. No one should want to be the financial favorite of the scam set, which is why looking the other way just isn’t an option. Warn your customers about fraud, and give them a phone number they can call to report it to you.

It is your choice whether to submit a comment. If you do, you must create a user name, or we will not post your comment. The Federal Trade Commission Act authorizes this information collection for purposes of managing online comments. Comments and user names are part of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) public records system, and user names also are part of the FTC’s computer user records system. We may routinely use these records as described in the FTC’s Privacy Act system notices. For more information on how the FTC handles information that we collect, please read our privacy policy.

The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

  • We won’t post off-topic comments, repeated identical comments, or comments that include sales pitches or promotions.
  • We won’t post comments that include vulgar messages, personal attacks by name, or offensive terms that target specific people or groups.
  • We won’t post threats, defamatory statements, or suggestions or encouragement of illegal activity.
  • We won’t post comments that include personal information, like Social Security numbers, account numbers, home addresses, and email addresses. To file a detailed report about a scam, go to

We don't edit comments to remove objectionable content, so please ensure that your comment contains none of the above. The comments posted on this blog become part of the public domain. To protect your privacy and the privacy of other people, please do not include personal information. Opinions in comments that appear in this blog belong to the individuals who expressed them. They do not belong to or represent views of the Federal Trade Commission.

October 16, 2018
how about us postal money order?
sandra joy
December 19, 2018
i was contacted on my cell phone by 414 678 9732 and transferred to 646 397 4402 for a grant , i used 3 google cards to pay 250. 250. and 498. dollars and they were trying to get more . this i believe may have come from a scam called Resources4you. I am a senior age 69. i went to a safeway to purchase the google play cards. they told me not to tell my bank ( located in the safeway), what i was doing. when i said i would go ask. them at the request of a transferr fee. for a 4th card. then i asked ... the bank the bank told me a small fee and i got suspicious. they also asked how much money i had in my account. when i told them i wanted it refunded the phone numbers were then not answered. I had filled out a partial form for the Rsources4you on the internet,that is why i believe it came generated from them. I have Google play cards 5lxxxxxx, fe xxxxxxxx, 3b xx xxxx xxxx 74xx and xxxx xxxx bdxx xxxx...the date 11/05 18 the first two were 250, the last was 498 dollars Federal Way , Wa. 98003. was told to me this was a grant, then they changed their story to an insurance policly when they first declared it was for a tax payment, as the conversation went on. what a mess. this was a grant for 9000. dollars. they said when i answered the phone the phone calls were from wisconsin, then transferred to new york. sandra
FTC Staff
December 19, 2018

In reply to by sandra joy

This does sound like a scam. You could report this to the FTC at 1-877-382-4357. The call is toll-free and you will talk to a representative. The FTC will use the information you provide for investigations.

Scammers might call you again and ask you to buy gift cards, or send money. They know you sent money once, and they might try again to trick you. Don't buy gift cards, or wire money to someone who calls to promise a prize or grant.

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