/ 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.

Maggie says:
22 January 2021

This scam was tried on us early last year. The first we knew was a telephone call from a travel agent we had used. He had received an email from us saying “I need your help urgently, please send me an Amazon voucher” or something similar to that. The travel agent said it looked like the email address had been hacked. Then we started to receive a string of telephone calls from friends who had received the same email. Our email address could not be accessed and all the contacts held had disappeared. The eBay account had also gone. It took a few days to close the eBay account (losing all stars), get a new email address, change all emails held by third parties and sort things out generally. A nightmare!

Christine Robson says:
22 January 2021

I regularly receive scam texts. The latest this week supposedly from Lloyds bank saying an attempt had been made to make a payment of £632 to a new payee and giving a name and then telling me contact Lloyds fraud team on a given number. I checked the number and it wasn’t a Lloyds number. I rang Lloyds Fraud Dept. on the number from their website and they confirmed it was a scam. Is it normal to regularly get scam texts and emails because I’ve had a few of those too. I was informed my details were those obtained when Easy Jet were hacked.

I had a text like that today from “HSBC” saying an attempt had been made to make a payment to a new payee. I don’t have a bank account or any financial products with HSBC. Interesting to know how these fraudsters may have got my details, via easyJet. Last week I had a call from someone saying he was from the police and that my bank card had been used fraudulently. He was most insistent I phone a number he gave me to confirm he was legit. He was too insistent so I said I would check my bank account first. He said he’d stay on the line while I did, at which point I told him I was ending the call. Did some research and this is a variant of the one where they pretend to be from your bank. I was a bit unsure because he claimed to be from the police, even though I immediately think scam whenever I get an unsolicited call. This caller knew my address and phone number as well as my name.

After my parents were contacted by someone claiming to be a police officer last year and they got suspicious (like you did) so didn’t lose anything, I bought them new handsets with the ‘TrueCall’ call blocker built in, so anyone not in their contacts list has to announce themselves first. They have not received a SINGLE scam call since (or, rather, none have got through – when I check the call log, there are still plenty of attempts). Best purchase I have ever made for them.

Pauline Chapman says:
22 January 2021

I also received one of these scams from a friends address, thought it unusual but sent quite a long email to them as we hadn’t spoken for quite a while. Got a reply straight back asking for a Google play gift card to value of £100 or £200 what I could afford. I then smelt a rat and rang my friend and as soon as he answered he said it’s a scam, was fed up with all phone calls he had had about it. The scammers asked when you got card to scratch the PIN number and take a photo and send to them or if buying on line gave another email address to send to the person for birthday. There are some unsavoury wicked thieving people around it is disgusting how they try to fleece people.

Margaret Baker says:
22 January 2021

I had the birthday-gift-for-a-niece email purporting to be from someone (a clergywoman) who was a lapsed U3A contact. The clue was the reason for contacting me – she was ‘in transit’. This was the result of my contacts list having been seized at an earlier date. I was able to decline with a genuine reason (just in case!). I think my list is still being sold on and I get telephone calls, sometimes from ‘BT’ (usually an Indian accent), sometimes from an authoritative lady with a translatlantic accent, generally at lunchtime. The risk is not so much of being scammed as of dropping my lunch on the floor as I reach for the phone.

francis peter says:
22 January 2021

i keep sending phishing e-mails to santander my bank but they still keep coming generally from money projects?? stating i have a lot of credit in the company. IE $200000 or £15000 please withdraw it.

I keep receiving the following e-mail, have had about five so far half of which were sent to an old redundant email address. Checking Mailbox
“Your mailbox account failed to sync and returned (6) incoming emails.
Synchronization was unsuccessful because your mailbox could not be validated.
Check Mail To retrieve.
Note: the message will last until 21/01/2021.”
They purport to be sent from Hotmail but each one seems to be sent from a different named person. They are also not addressed to me but to a telvin21@icloud.id
Obviously phishing and trying to get me to click on Check Mail

[Moderator: this website appears to be a scam website. We’ve retained the URL to help you identify it, but we’ve redirected the link to our guidance on how to spot fraudulent website. ]

Gill M says:
22 January 2021

I received one of these requests last year from a person I hadn’t communicated with for a few years. Their present age might have made them unable to get out in lockdown restrictions, so I was happy to lend a hand. The person had been a highly educated, professional , so some spelling mistakes and not addressing me personally put me on my guard, There was something that bothered me about the end of the email address, too. I checked back with my contacts’ list and their ending was .com but my copy was .co.uk. I wrote back as if speaking to the person on the incorrect email address shown , advising them to make more secure their account, as it had been hacked by unscrupulous people trying to get money out of other contacts. I didn’t hear anything more, thankfully!

Just got one today re Niece and Gift Card. From someone I’ve known for years but don’t email each other too often. We use Whars App normally- so I contacted him through there to get confirmation it was/ was not him.will warn him when he replies to change access.

Rosie says:
22 January 2021

Hi. Had call from ‘Amazon’ yesterday to say about a transaction made from my account for £1049! Press 1 to pay or 2 to speak to someone. I didn’t press anything!

My Facebook account was hacked but luckly most of my contacts knew i wouldn,t ask them to buy a token on my behalf and I didnt have a sick relative anyway. I was informed of this scam by phone immediately and I changed my password. My Facebook account on my phone was hacked but I am not signing in on my phone nowadays.

Marion Best says:
22 January 2021

Hi, I have had 5 phone calls today from Amazon to say that there was a problem with something (I couldn’t understand what it was) I had ordered and to press buttons to arrange a refund. Needless to say hung up each time. On checking the call list each message came from a different phone number!
Marion Best

Rosie says:
23 January 2021

Hi was it an automated American accent? Mine’s looked like a mobile no ..All I made out was a transaction for £1049 & the press 1 or to find out more was press 2.to query it!

Get yourself handsets with ‘TrueCall’ call blocking built in. I bought a set for my elderly parents just over a year ago after they very nearly fell victim to the ‘courier scam’ (whereby someone calls claiming to be a police officer regarding fraudulent use of a debit or credit card and will arrange for someone to come round to collect it off of you). Since then, they have not received a SINGLE unwanted call (whether that be from a scammer or just a genuine – but unwelcome – sales call).

C Clark says:
24 January 2021

We received a similar scam email recently. The email claimed to be from a close friend and was asking us to send Google Play gift cards totaling £200 for her niece’s birthday.
The email was suspicious for a number of reasons:
1. The originator’s email address was not our friend’s email address.
2. We were addressed as ‘Hi’ and not by our names.
3. The wording was very formal – for example, ‘Awaiting your soonest response.’
4. The email contained several minor grammatical and punctuation errors which our friend would
never have let slip.
On investigation it was found that the scam had originated in Nigeria – home of many similar scams.

Had an email from what I thought was my boss, rushed out brought 2 x £100 Amazon cards sent security code and pictures to his email address and he came back asking what I was doing….. I didn’t send back via the original message so they never got the cards. Checked and yes the email address was a scam !!

DICK says:
31 January 2021

Also had e mails and calls from scammers pretending to be from Amazon about an acc I never had with them. As Amazon is so often used as a cover by scammers should not they be required to do more to prevent this activity in their name. Otherwise they will get no business from me.

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We both had scam emails today along with friends on our contacts list supposedly from another friend asking us to buy an Amazon gift card for a birthday present for their niece as they had problems with their Amazon account. We thought the wording was not right and rang our friends and as they had all got the very same email it confirmed to us it’s a SCAM.

pah why do they even do this

What I don’t understand is why can’t Amazon reveal the account details, to the police, of where the gift cards where credited to or used – they cannot be used as cash anywhere except Amazon.

Tony W says:
22 February 2021

I received an email today from a friend saying they wanted a favour from me. It seemed unusual but feasible. I checked the from address and it appeared correct. I replied to this email to receive one back asking to get an Amazon gift card as they had problems with their account. This time the English wasn’t so good and the from address was not the same as the original email. Now it was obvious to be a scam.