Scammers Will Call Posing as Government Officials, Wanting You to Pay Them With Gift Cards
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Scammers Will Call Posing as Government Officials, Wanting You to Pay Them With Gift Cards

The fraudulent callers most often pretend to be officials from government organizations such as the IRS, the FBI, and even local sheriffs' offices

November 16, 2019

Imagine getting a phone call from a government official saying that a loved one was arrested or that you owe back taxes. Then imagine that the caller says some kind of enforcement action will happen unless you pay a fine or other amount owed immediately via some ind of gift card. Would you pay up? Hopefully you'd realize that scammers are the only ones who call and want you to pay with gift cards.

Basics of the Scam

These "officials" typically say that payment will protect you, your family, or your friends from arrest, fine or some other legal action. According to complaints filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the fraudulent callers most often pretend to be officials from organizations such as the IRS, the FBI, and local police departments. To an unsuspecting victim, these calls can be scary.

You can resolve the issue with gift cards, or so they say

The callers typically give victims, many of whom are older adults, seemingly legitimate reasons for the call. They are told, for example, that a loved one has been caught texting while driving or that the victim owes back taxes. The caller then advises the victim that he or she can resolve the problem immediately by paying with prepaid gift cards, very often Apple iTunes gift cards. The victim is then instructed to provide the card's information, including the access code, which allows the scammer to use or sell the gift card to third parties almost immediately.

Legitimate Agencies and Companies Don't Ask for Payment Via Gift Cards

Government agencies and legitimate companies NEVER call consumers to seek payment via gift cards. If you receive any request for payment via a gift card, hang up immediately.


If you are or suspect that you are the victim of a scam or some other illegal practice, you should file a complaint. Doing so can help protect your rights and protect others from becoming victims. If you suspect you are dealing with a scamming, you should first stop all contact to minimize that chances of further losses. Don't respond to scammers via phone, text message, email or postal mail.

In North Carolina, you can report scams and other illegal practices to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. If you live outside North Carolina, report it to your state Attorney General. You can also submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which is co-sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).

Tips for Protecting Yourself

You should always be on alert for this scam, as well as others. The following tips can help ward off unwanted calls and scams:

  • Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
  • If you are unclear if a caller is legitimate, hang up, independently look up the organization's publicly listed phone number or legitimate website, and contact them through an official number, web form or email address to see if they called you.
  • If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify, and then target, people who interact with these types of calls.
  • If you receive a scam call, file a complaint so we can help identify and take appropriate action to help those targeted by illegal callers.
  • Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service. If not, encourage the provider to start offering it. You can also visit the FCC's website for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls