Text reads Scam Alert

Don’t fall for the gift card scam

May 16, 2022
Author: Tracey Terepocki, Manager of Information Security at VIU

A tale in four acts

You receive an email that “looks” like it came from a family member/friend/boss and they need your help. Well, of course you want to help. Small problem it isn't your family member/friend/boss and the only help they want is to help themselves to your money.

Act 1 - The hook

“Got a moment?”

“Are you available?”

“Are you free?”

When you respond they are in a rush, can’t talk, videoconference or meet in person.

Act 2 - The pitch for help

I need you to help me out with something very important right from any store around. Let me know if you can do this.

I need you to run a quick task for me. Please send me an email as soon as possible.”

Act 3 - The excuses start

“I’m tied up.”

“I’m in a meeting and they don’t allow phones.”

“I need to send these but I haven’t been able to get them myself as I am stuck in the hospital with a relative who’s critically ill.”

Act 4 - The climax

I need you to pick up 10 $100 Amazon/Steam/Apple/etc. gift cards. Scratch off the PIN and send the numbers/photos of the cards to me immediately.”

Moral of the story

Be politely paranoid; with everyone in your trust circle. If you didn’t initiate the contact, you don’t know who you’re communicating with.

Email safety tips

Don’t buy in to the urgency.

If the sender is in a desperate rush for whatever they are asking you to do, that’s a good sign they don’t want you to have time to think.

Double check the email address.

Scammers often try to make it look like it’s from someone you know, or a reputable organization, even when it isn’t. For example, person-viu@gmail.com.

Confirm the sender and the request through other methods of communication.

Scammers will say no to phone calls, video calls or in-person conversations.

Don’t buy gift cards (or Bitcoin) unless you have absolutely confirmed who you are dealing with.

It’s important to be “scam aware” at all times.

When in doubt, play it safe.

Think twice before sharing personal information or credit card details, giving financial information, changing your password, etc.

What do I need to do?

If you replied to the e-mail and:

  1. Only exchanged friendly banter but didn’t actually do anything for them, you’re fine and no further action is required.
  2. Provided your username/password? Go and change your password right away! Instructions on changing your VIU password.
  3. Purchased something with a credit card/cash/debit/bitcoin: Follow the guide at the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre for your next steps.

Learn to recognize and protect yourself from scams. Also, check out Slam the Scam for more information on how to protect yourself from CRA scams.

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