Gift cards might seem a little impersonal, but they make gifting easy for those of us who are too busy or disinclined to search for that perfect gift.

Cyber criminals appreciate gift cards too but more for their anonymity than their convenience. Once stolen, a digital or physical gift card can be difficult to trace back to its rightful owner, making it even harder for law enforcement to catch the thief.

The practice of “carding” is simply using a stolen credit card to purchase gift cards and then reselling them to consumers. Credit card purchases do offer some protections against fraud, but gift cards are more like cash, so if your gift card is lost or stolen, it’s like losing the cash equivalent.

We know that unused gift cards add up to $3 billion annually, but that’s more of a corporate-revenue strategy and not straight-up theft. However, seniors aged 65 and older suffered a median loss of $700 in 2020 due to gift card scams.

One popular scam involves our annual tax collectors, or at least tax scammers posing as the IRS.

It starts with an alarming voicemail claiming to be from the IRS and instructing the recipient to avoid criminal tax evasion by paying the fine immediately. The voice message goes on to allow the bogus tax debt to be paid off using iTunes gift cards.

According to CNBC, since 2013, scammers have racked up over $54 million from victims, most of them using iTunes gift cards.

And this year shows no signs of slowing up. In the midst of a pandemic, tax-filing extensions have been permitted for 2021. Unfortunately, that also means these scams will continue longer this year in an effort to extort more money from victims.

Here are a few scammer tipoffs that might keep you from being hacked.


• Do not respond to any voicemails from the IRS. The IRS does not typically contact anyone through the phone, text message, or email, and they rarely leave voicemail messages. If you have any outstanding taxes that you owe, you will receive an official correspondence to your physical mailing address, or you will receive a visit in person from an IRS agent.


• You will not be asked to provide payment to the Internal Revenue Service using gift cards, cash, or any kind of cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin.


• Never share any personal data, such as Social Security number, passwords, bank account numbers, or any tax records unless you are dealing directly with a verified and authorized IRS or law enforcement agent.


• Forward IRS-related scam emails to and report IRS-impersonation telephone calls online at


Tax time is stressful enough without the threat of hackers. If you minimize your sharing on social media, verify all correspondence before sending any data, and take your time to react to alerts (no matter how much they insist it is an emergency), you will go a long way toward keeping hackers at bay.


Scott Schober is the president and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems, a New Jersey-based provider of wireless test and security solutions, and the author of three bestselling security books: Hacked Again, Cybersecurity is Everybody’s Business, and Senior Cyber. Schober is a cybersecurity expert for live security events, media appearances, and commentary., @SeniorCyber

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