Gift card scam

Posted on Monday, March 18, 2019

Scam alert

Be aware and watchful!

The University of Ottawa community has and continues to be targeted by fraudsters that have contacted professors or support staff in multiple departments in order to commit financial fraud with the use of various gift card scams. Unfortunately, these fraudsters have been successful on numerous occasions, leading to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars lost.

How do these scams work?

The scammers use various tricks to steal money by pushing their victims to buy a gift card (e.g., iTunes, Google Play, etc.). Once the fraudsters have the information for the gift card, they are able to freely use the money on the card for their own profit.

For example, a fraudster creates a fake email account using the real name of a director, dean, supervisor, or colleague (e.g., Note that the FROM address of the email is not Afterwards, the fraudster communicates with individuals in the department by using the false e-mail account. The fraudster requests that the victim urgently purchase gift cards (mostly iTunes), scratch the code and send back the picture of the code to fraudster by email.

Example of an email received by an individual at the University:

Trick 1 – Pay with or send gift cards

RED FLAG: You receive an email or a call from a colleague, supervisor, company, or government asking to pay using a gift card or to send them a gift card. This call or email usually has a sense of urgency – “ASAP”, “Urgent” or provides a sense of helplessness – “I’m on vacation”, “I lost my wallet”, “I need this for my child”.

Example of an email received by an individual the University:

From: John Doe <>

To: Mary Jane <>

Subject: Re: Are you available?

I need you to help me get iTunes Gifts card from the store,i will reimburse you back when i get to the office.I need to send it to someone and it is very important cause i'm still in a meeting and i need to get it sent Asap. it one of my best friend son birthday. The amount i want is $100 each in 7 piece so that will make it a total of $700 l'll be reimbursing back to you.i need physical cards which you are going to get from the store. When you get them,just scratch it and take a picture of them and attach it to the email then send it to me here ok.

John Doe

  • Don’t be fooled.
  • Make sure the email is from an address.
  • If you get a phone call from someone telling you to make a payment with gift cards, hang up the phone.
  • If you have any doubts that the call or email is legitimate, call back the person or company yourself. Don’t call the number given to you by the individual or on the caller ID.
  • If you get an email from a company or person telling you to make a payment with gift cards, delete it. Contact the company or person back directly to ensure it has come from them.
  • Don’t respond to the email or click any of the links in it.
  • Report the suspicious email to the Service desk.

Trick 2 - Balance check on 3-way call

RED FLAG: Someone offers to give you money to buy gift cards or asks you to call your gift card company and listen-in on the call while you check your balance. 


  • Do not accept calls or emails from people offering to buy your gift cards. 
  • Never allow anyone to listen in on your calls to the gift card company. 
  • If you want to sell your cards, only sell them to reputable gift card resellers that offers a money-back guarantee. 
  • Use a gift card exchange kiosk or store if one is available in your area. Make sure you receive cash for your gift card.


Trick 3 - Stolen card number

RED FLAG:  You are shopping in a store and an employee offers to find the gift card you are looking for or asks you to purchase a specific gift card instead of the one you chose. 


  • Always pick the gift card from the rack yourself. 
  • Try to avoid picking the first gift card in the front of the pack – pick one instead from the middle of the pack. 
  • Be alert if an employee is handling the gift card before you chose it or if the employee has provided you the gift card you were looking for. 
  • Check the back of the gift card and ensure the sticker is still covering the number. Do not purchase any cards that appear to have been tampered with. 


Quick tips to help you stay secure

1. Hang up on fake callers

The University of Ottawa, nor any other reputable company or government agency, will ever demand payment with gift cards. If someone claims to be from the University or other company, hang up.

2. Don’t believe anything in emails trying to get information or payments from you

Stay vigilant when receiving emails asking you to pay with gift cards, send money, or provide any other personal information.

Don’t respond and do not click on any links. Delete the email and report it to Service desk.

3. Check your gift card balances in private

If someone asks to listen as you call to confirm the balance of a gift card, it is likely a scam.

4. Inspect gift card packaging

When you buy from a local store, inspect the packaging. If it looks tampered or the PIN is revealed, return the gift card to the cashier, and pick another one.

5. Check the activation receipt

When you buy from a local store, make sure the gift card number listed on the activation receipt matches the gift card you receive.

6. Only buy from reputable sellers

Only buy gift cards from a trusted reseller that has a good customer service and will give you a money-back guarantee on purchases.

7. Keep the purchase and activation receipts

Whenever you buy a gift card, save the purchase and activation receipt until the gift card is fully redeemed.

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