Before You Agree to a Friendly ‘Favor’ Via Email, Beware This Phishing Scheme

This man looks suspicious.
This man looks suspicious. / boonchai wedmakawand/Moment via Getty Images

With decades of email scams under consumers’ belts, it might seem like people have grown too wary of being targeted for any to work. Criminals, however, never stop trying. One of the latest schemes involves soliciting gift cards as a favor for a “friend”—the “friend” in this instance being a thief.

According to Reader’s Digest, the ploy involves the following: A person is sent an email that looks to be from a friend, relative, or other known entity. They request the recipient buy a gift card for them because they’re too busy to grab one themselves. Then the recipient is expected to remit photos of the gift card with the card number to be reimbursed later.

Naturally, no reimbursement is forthcoming.

While most everyone would ignore such a request from a stranger, spoofing someone else’s name or email makes it appear somewhat authentic. If a hacker has access to a person’s work contacts, they may make it appear as though the request is coming from a boss.

“The supposed boss may claim they are traveling, or too busy to make the purchase,” Bobby Savoie, president of Louisiana AARP, said in a recent video. “But once the gift cards are purchased and the information is sent, the money is gone.”

Your likely question: Who would fall for this? Plenty do. Sophisticated scammers sometimes initiate a dialogue with the target first, asking how they’re doing before popping the “favor” question. The con was convincing enough to nearly fool staff at the Better Business Bureau in late 2022.

Aside from being aware of the scam, the best strategy is to simply contact the person requesting the gift card to confirm it’s really them.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]