iTunes Gift Cards the Latest Go-To Tool in Many Gotchas

iTunes gift cardThe song remains the same: You owe back taxes and now face arrest or a lawsuit. Your grandkids are in trouble. Your computer has a dangerous virus. You owe a debt, missed mandatory jury duty or didn’t pay your utility bill.

But there’s a new chorus in these and other scams: “Now pay me…with an iTunes gift card.”

Why? Like other swindler-preferred payment methods (wire transfers and prepaid debit cards),  iTunes gift cards are a fast, easy and virtually untraceable way for con artists to get cash — or for senders to get it back.

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No matter the ploy, it works like this: A conning caller persuades the target to purchase (online or at a store), load money and then provide (via phone, email or text message) the 16-digit code on the back of one or more iTunes cards.

“But as soon as you put money on a card and share the code with them, the money’s gone for good, warns the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The card’s value is then drained, traded or sold on the black market. And you’re left with a worthless piece of plastic — and, likely, more fraudster phone calls.

Because iTunes gift cards are the equivalent of cash, their popularity as a go-to tool in many gotcha scams has surged in recent months and should be an obvious tip-off to an impending rip-off.

“Any call requesting that taxpayers place funds on an iTunes gift card or other gift cards to pay taxes and fees is an indicator of fraudulent activity!” warns the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

Adds parent company Apple: “iTunes Gift Cards are solely for the purchase of goods and services on the iTunes Store and App Store. Should you receive a request for payment using iTunes Gift Cards outside of iTunes and the App Store please report it at ftc.gov/complaint.”

It’s not that these cards have replaced other scammer-preferred payments; swindlers also favor reloadable cards such as MoneyPak, Reloadit or Vanilla; Amazon gift cards; PayPal; and, of course, wire transfers like Western Union and MoneyGram, the FTC notes. But no government agency nor any but a handful of businesses require any of these payment methods.

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And last month, the FTC made it illegal for telemarketers to ask for payment by cash-to-cash wire transfers and/or PINs from cash-reload cards like MoneyPak — not that criminals are expected to follow the government’s amended Telemarketing Sales Rule.

With iTunes gift cards proving to be a hit in many hoaxes, some sound advice: Unless you’re shopping for music at the iTunes store, you shouldn’t be paying with an iTunes gift card.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

Photo: AnthonyRosenberg/iStock

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