Identified Scam:

Avoid Imposters Stealing Your Money via eBay Gift Card Scams

Don't trust anyone who asks for payment via eBay gift cards, even if they claim they are from a legitimate company or government agency.


Verified.org
Updated 4 August 2021
Avoid Imposters Stealing Your Money via eBay Gift Card Scams
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Identified Scam:

Key Finding

Scammers impersonate well-known brands and agencies requesting payment via eBay gift cards.


Key Risk

Once you hand over the gift card number, the scammer will use the balance immediately—you are left without your item or your bill being paid.

Sections on this page
  1. What Are eBay Gift Card Scams?
  2. How To Beat and Avoid eBay Gift Card Scams
  3. Examples of eBay Gift Card Scams
  4. What To Do if You’ve Fallen for eBay Gift Card Scams
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

A request for you to pay for something using an eBay gift card should be a red flag of a scam. Although it may seem like an easy way to pay for an item, you should avoid it at all costs. 

What Are eBay Gift Card Scams?

If you’re shopping for someone who enjoys browsing the online auctions on eBay, an eBay gift card can be a good choice. However, if someone asks you for payment in eBay gift cards, you’ve stumbled into a scam. eBay gift card scams can strike when you’re shopping for items on online marketplaces or simply when you open an email or answer the phone. Here are some of the most common versions of the eBay gift card scam.

Once you purchase the gift cards and provide the numbers to the individual, you cannot reverse the transaction. The scammers can convert the gift card funds into cryptocurrency or cash, so the money isn’t traceable, unlike a traditional payment method.  

Online Marketplace Shopping 

While browsing one of the online marketplaces (e.g., eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace), you spot something you’d like to buy. It’s probably a great deal compared to similar items listed online. 

You inquire about buying the item, and the seller wants you to pay using eBay gift cards. Sometimes, you might hear an elaborate story about how the seller needs to sell something quickly due to an urgent situation, like a health problem or upcoming deployment.

Once you buy the gift cards and provide the codes to the seller, you never hear from them again, and you don’t receive the item you intended to purchase.  

Example Message from Scammer

I can send you the item today once I receive payment. As I need the money asap (I am being deployed tomorrow), can you please pay using eBay gift cards? That way all you need to do is send me the gift card numbers, then I will send you your item. 

Utility Company Calls

You receive a call from someone claiming to be from your utility company. They instruct you to pay your bill using eBay gift cards, or your power or water will be shut off.

Sweepstakes Calls

Someone calls you to let you know you’ve won a contest that you never entered. To receive your prize, you’ll need to pay some fees with eBay gift cards.

Tech Support Calls

You receive a call or email from someone who states they work in tech support and there’s a problem with your computer. You’ll be asked to send payment upfront in the form of, you guessed it, eBay gift cards.

Example Call

Hi, this is Apple tech support, we are calling to let you know we've detected a virus on your computer. You will need to have this fixed right away or you will lose all of the files on your computer. 

We can fix this for you no problem today. You will just need to pay a fee of $100 using eBay gift cards. You can buy the gift cards and call me back to give me the card numbers then we will have your computer cleared of the virus.

eBay Account Calls

You receive a call about your account being frozen from someone who says they’re from eBay Customer Service. To unfreeze your account, you need to purchase eBay gift cards. 

IRS or Social Security Calls

The caller claims that you owe a fine and must pay using gift cards. With the Social Security hoax, the scammer will say you need to pay, or you won’t qualify for the benefits.

Suspicious Offers

Another possible version involves a caller offering a seemingly great deal, such as cutting your cable bill in half. However, the company only accepts payment in eBay gift cards.

Family Emergency Scams

A person you’ve never spoken with calls to let you know a family member is in trouble or needs to be bailed out of jail. They’ll ask you to pay with eBay gift cards. 

How To Beat and Avoid eBay Gift Card Scams

eBay gift card scams can be very convincing. Depending on which version of the scam you encounter, you could feel pressure to comply with the scammer’s instructions. 

How to Beat eBay Gift Card Scams

  • Keep your gift card codes to yourself: Do not share your eBay gift card codes with anyone else. In addition, whenever you purchase a gift card, keep the proof of purchase to verify that you bought it. 
  • Use eBay gift cards on eBay only: eBay gift cards are only designed for use at checkout on eBay.com. You should never use them as payment in any other setting or when requested via email or phone call. 
  • Avoid sellers asking for payment via gift cards: Even if you’re very interested in an item with a tempting price tag, don’t engage with any seller who’s asking you to pay in eBay gift cards—or any kind of gift card for that matter.
  • Use traceable forms of payment: It’s never wise to use gift cards as a form of payment. Once the funds are spent, they aren’t traceable. When you purchase items online, use a credit card. Even if the seller turns out to be fraudulent, your credit card company will be able to investigate the fraud and possibly return your money. 
  • Research the seller/person: Research the person or company before you buy anything—or agree to anything over the phone. Check the name, email, phone number, and address, if available. When you search the name, add in the word “complaint” or “scam.” 
  • Ignore suspicious messages: Even if you think you recognize the sender of an email or text, don’t respond if the sender asks for payment in eBay gift cards. The same goes for phone calls—hang up if the person asks for payment with gift cards. 

Red Flags of eBay Gift Card Scams

Identifying these scams can help you avoid losing money and possibly, sensitive personal information. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Requests for payment in eBay gift cards: The common denominator in these scams is someone asking you to pay for something using eBay gift cards. Whether you contacted the seller or someone got in touch with you, it’s a scam. 
  • Urgent situations: The scammer usually makes up some emergency and then asks you to make the payment using the gift cards. 
  • Offer of a great deal: If you’re trying to buy something online, it’s probably priced much cheaper than other similar items in an online marketplace. If someone has called or emailed to notify you of an offer, it probably sounds like a good deal—except for the requirement of paying with gift cards. 
  • Spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors: If you speak with a person via a messaging app, chat, or email, you may notice errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The person might sound as if they are not a native English speaker.  

Examples of eBay Gift Card Scams

Scammers have developed increasingly devious methods of tricking people with gift card scams. In this example, a scammer impersonating the Michigan Attorney General sent out emails to her staffers requesting that they pick up five eBay gift cards. The staffers, naturally thinking their boss made the request, replied for follow-up information. 

Example of eBay gift card scam
Scammers can impersonate people you know to trick you into buying eBay gift cards. (Source: Michigan Department of Attorney General)

In this example, a woman responded to a text offering a promotion to save money on her cable bills. When she called the number, the representative stated that the cable company was partnering with eBay, and she would need to pay $650 in eBay gift cards to qualify for the promotion.  

Example of eBay gift card scam.
(Source: KHOU 11)

Here’s a classic example of an email sent by someone selling a car, seemingly through eBay Motors, and requesting payment via eBay gift cards. The scammers instruct the buyer to email the gift card codes to the “eBay Motors Financial Department” in a bid to appear legitimate. 

Example of eBay gift card scam.
Scammers can impersonate companies, including eBay to trick you. (Source: eBay)

What To Do if You’ve Fallen for eBay Gift Card Scams

When you’ve paid a scammer using eBay gift cards, the most critical next step is acting quickly. The faster you report the issue, the better chance you have of recovering your money.

Contact eBay 

Contact eBay Customer Service as soon as possible to report that your gift card has been used in a scam. Make sure to keep the physical gift card and receipt so eBay can verify it. Find out if there is still a balance on the card and if they can refund your money. 

Contact the Store of Purchase

If eBay cannot refund your money, reach out to the store where you bought the gift card. Although it’s less likely the store will refund your money, it’s worth a try. 

File a Police Report

File a report with your local police department, which may help your case when you’re dealing with the gift card issuer. 

Report it to Scam-Fighting Authorities

Making a report to the authorities can help them stop eBay gift card scams from happening to other victims. You can report the crime to your state attorney general, as well as the Federal Trade Commission.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get my money back if I've fallen for an eBay gift card scam?

Contact eBay to report the scam as soon as possible. Also, contact the store or site from which you bought the gift card to see if there's anything you can do. Unfortunately, it's unlikely you'll be able to receive a refund, but you may be able to get the card canceled before the scammer has a chance to use it.

Can I get a refund for eBay gift cards?

eBay gift cards are non-refundable and cannot be redeemed for cash. 

Is it normal for utility companies or government agencies to request payment via eBay gift cards?

No. Companies, including utility companies, and government agencies (e.g., the Social Security Administration or the IRS), do not accept payment via gift cards of any kind, including eBay gift cards. If someone claiming to be representing one of these companies or agencies asks for payment in eBay gift cards, it's a scam.

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