/ Scams

Scam alert: Amazon gift card COVID-19 email requests

A new twist on an old scam has emerged, in which fraudsters are using the pandemic as the perfect excuse to trick people into buying them Amazon gift cards.

We’ve already exposed the fake texts and calls about the COVID-19 vaccine, sent by criminals attempting to steal personal data and card detail, but now we’ve seen fraudsters hacking into email accounts and using coronavirus isolation as a hook to target victims.

We often hear from scam victims who received a seemingly innocent email from a friend, relative or work colleague only to discover that they were communicating with a fraudster all along. 

Once an email account is hacked, criminals will try every trick in the book to make money, including sending emails to their contacts list. 

A common tactic is to ask them to buy an Amazon gift card (more often than not, as a present for a “niece”) offering a spurious reason as to why they can’t purchase this themselves – and the pandemic has given scammers the perfect excuse, as you can see below:

How the gift card scam works

As the recipients are likely to trust the address of the sender, they assume the request is genuine and kindly agree to purchase the gift cards. 

Now the scammer can simply ask you to share the serial numbers so that they can cash them in. 

Though the Amazon gift card scam is the one most commonly reported to Which?, be cautious of any message asking you to make a purchase or divulge personal data.

Here’s another example of a scam message from a hacked email account:


Dealing with emails from hacked accounts

Never answer an unsolicited email without making checks, even if it seems to be from a trusted source. 

If you receive an email asking for personal data or any form of financial help, call that friend or family member on a trusted number and let them know their account may have been hacked. 

They should then change their password immediately to secure the account, and warn other contacts that they may have received a malicious message. We have a guide on how to do this here

Setting up two-factor authentication will also make it much more difficult for anyone to hack their email account going forward.

Guide: how to get your money back after a scam

Amazon itself specifically makes people aware of this gift card scam on its site. It states:

DO NOT provide any gift card details (such as the claim code) to someone you do not know or trust – and always take steps to verify the identity of anyone asking you to provide gift card details.

Once a claim code, from any gift card, is provided to a scammer, the funds will likely be spent before you are able to contact law enforcement or Amazon.

Have you received a fake email from a hacked account of a friend or family member? Let us know in the comments.

Tony says:
16 April 2021

I was caught out this week. An email from a close friend arrived with almost the same wording as already mentioned, except it was for his granddaughter’s birthday and he was away from home. The amount he requested in vouchers was £300. I didn’t quibble as I know him well and it looked like his email address. I suggested that it was easier to arrange for the voucher online through Amazon’s website. He gave me his granddaughter’s email address and the message he wanted including and I went ahead with the order.
The next day he confirmed that she had received it but his other granddaughter was upset that she had been left out so would I please do the same thing for her. This was when a scam first entered my mind. I rang my friend on his mobile and, of course, he knew nothing of it.
I immediately contacted Amazon on their ring-me-back facility and explained the situation to them. They were brilliant and put a stop on the vouchers immediately. They then arranged to refund the £300 to my bank account.

Lesley says:
30 April 2021

I was nearly caught out this week, but messaged my friend to check whether it was a genuine request, or not.

I was try to sell my fridge freezer on Gumtree and I was asked to purchase Amazon vouchers for the delivery driver from a so called buyer – thankfully I remembered reading about a similar scam and told them to impolitely to go away.