Apr 13, 2022
The Problem with America’s Favorite Gift
New AARP Research Shines a Light on Rampant Gift Card Fraud and Consumers’ Demand for Greater Protections

WASHINGTON — One third of U.S. adults say they have been targeted by scams seeking payment by gift card, according to the Gift Card Scams report released today by the AARP Fraud Watch Network. And nearly a quarter of consumers have given or received gift cards that had no funds on them.

The research  aims to understand the consumer experience when encountering financial loss related to gift card fraud in two scenarios: gift card payment scams, when a criminal convinces a consumer to pay a fake financial obligation by purchasing gift cards and sharing the numbers off the back of the cards, and zero-value gift cards, when a consumer has given or received a card with no funds on it.  Shockingly, the research finds that 73 million Americans have experienced one of these forms of gift card fraud.

Gift card payment scams have been on the rise since 2018. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers reported losses of $233 million in 2021 to scams involving gift cards as the form of payment. “Criminals are most likely to convince people to purchase gift cards to ‘pay fees’ to claim sweepstakes winnings or ‘pay upfront’ for some product or service,” explains Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs at AARP. “Or, they impersonate a friend or coworker to coerce their targets to do them a favor by purchasing gift cards.”

With respect to zero-value gift cards, Stokes says that, while some of this might be the result of an error at purchase or perhaps a consumer forgetting they already used the card, “the fact that 1 in 4 consumers have experienced giving or receiving a card with no value on it points to criminal activity.”  

​ Other survey findings:

  • More than a third of consumers who discovered no funds on their gift card called the number or visited the website listed on the back of the card.
  • More than half who had a gift card with no funds on it, and tried to get a refund were not able to obtain a credit or refund for the missing balance. 
  • While a third of consumers have been targeted by a gift card payment scams, younger adults are being targeted more often than older adults.
  • About one fourth of consumers who bought gift card(s) to pay an alleged financial obligation were warned by a store clerk or manager that they might be experiencing a scam. This is important because AARP has found that more than half the time a third-party intervenes in attempted financial exploitation, the potential victims are able to avoid losing money (AARP/Virginia Tech, 2019 & DeLiema, et al., 2019).
  • The majority of consumers strongly agree that lawmakers need to do more to protect consumers from fraud, with adults age 50+ more likely than younger adults to feel this way.

The report calls on retailers, payment processors, card issuers, and other industry supporters to do more to combat gift card fraud, including more in-store interventions, employee training, point-of-sale system enhancements, restoring of consumer losses, and data analytics to identify and stop fraudulent transactions. It also calls on law enforcement to do more about these crimes. 

The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for all that equips consumers with up-to-date knowledge to spot and avoid scams, and connects those targeted by scams with  fraud helpline specialists who provide support and guidance on what to do next. The Fraud Watch Network also advocates at the federal, state and local levels to enact policy changes that protect consumers and enforce laws.

To read the full report, visit http://www.aarp.org/giftcardsurvey2022.


About AARP

AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org, www.aarp.org/espanol or follow @AARP, @AARPenEspanol  and @AARPadvocates, @AliadosAdelante on social media.

For further information: Vanessa Camozzi, vcamozzi@aarp.org, 202-706-2701