Consumers are losing millions of dollars a year to scammers who demand payment by gift cards such as iTunes, Amazon or Google Play.
Government figures show more than $4.3 million of consumer losses via gift cards were reported to scamwatch.gov.au last year, with the fraudsters often impersonating official agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office and aggressively threatening victims.
Millions more dollars were likely lost but not reported, often because victims feel embarrassed.
Scammers typically order people to go out and buy hundreds or thousands of dollars of gift cards, then read them the codes on the back of the card.
These codes are used by the scammers to buy goods or are sold on the black market.
The Commonwealth Bank’s executive general manager of direct channels, Philippa Watson, said gift cards were a low-risk way for scammers to access money without providing personal details that might be traced back to them.
“A common version of this scam is for the scammers to pretend to be calling from the tax office,” she said.
“They will threaten to arrest the victim for non-payment of taxes unless amounts are paid to them in gift vouchers within an hour or so.
“Time pressure and threats of police action are among the tactics used to coerce victims to take fast action.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says in late 2018 there was a surge in scams demanding Google Play cards rather than iTunes, possibly because there had been a large push by authorities and retailers to display warnings about the use of iTunes cards in scams.
“No government department or reputable business will ever ask you to pay in cryptocurrency or gift cards,” said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
Ms Watson said scammers were always refining their tactics, and people should be sceptical about being approached out of the blue and asked to pay money.
“You don’t need to keep talking to someone who has called you just to be polite,” she said.
If in doubt, call the organisation back through its official number to check.
“It is better to be sceptical than to be scammed,” Ms Watson said.
Fraud Watch is presented in partnership with The Commonwealth Bank. If you have a scams story let us know at email@example.com. To find out more head to fraudwatchaustralia.com.au.