/ 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.

I had an email from a friend requesting I buy a Google play e-card from Amazon for £100 for a birthday gift for a friend as she was having difficulty with her bank and would reimburse me. The email seemed genuine, in fact I didn’t doubt it and silly me went ahead and purchased it. By the time I found out it was a scam it was too late. I contacted Amazon who couldn’t help, neither could Google as it had already been redeemed. I have tried to claim back from MasterCard but so far haven’t had any luck. The worrying thing is I am ex-directory but I also got a phone call from “Amazon” asking me to confirm the transaction. This morning I have received an email from “Amazon” to say that my bank had refused the transaction (I wish) and could I give my card details. They just don’t give up. Needless to say I had already cancelled my credit card.

Christine – I am sorry to hear you got hooked on this scam whereby criminals have somehow hacked into your friend’s e-mail account, found correspondence between you both which they have mimicked. They will also have diverted her mail so they can intercept it without your friend becoming aware of what is going on. Rest assured that it is extremely unlikely that your friend played any part in this fraud, at least knowingly.

There is a possibility that your own e-mail account has also been breached so you might wish to consider changing it or advising all your contacts to be aware of this risk and not to respond to any money requests appearing to come from you. It is also possible that the scammers have tried it on with other people in your friend’s circle. These things can spread like a web unfortunately.

It is very important to act promptly if your email account is hacked and there is plenty of advice online, for example: https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-malware-what-to-do-if-your-email-is-hacked.html It should not be necessary to change your email address.

It is also worth having two or more email addresses.

Julia says:
12 July 2021

I received the email asking for amazon vouchers from a friend’s email yesterday but it was preceded by an email asking if I’d received a message from him. I said not, but then thought it strange as the follow up was a request for amazon vouchers for his niece, which is something he wouldn’t do, and he didn’t address me by my nick name, which he would do, so thought it a scam. Thank you for the advice. The message was identical to that given as an example.

I ordered a bug killer on amazon, with the delivery is a card from soldvip saying to register for warranty andif you contact us on whatsapp you can get a free gift or amazon voucher. Is this genuine?

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this is actually genuine, I ordered a chopper cost 10 and end up getting 30 gift card if left them with 5 star reviews, I don’t know why they are doing this but they actually send real gift card. maybe these gift card was stolen from someone else?
just remember don’t give your bank details and don’t pay for anything you should be fine

Penny Parkes says:
28 January 2022

Hello I got scammed for Amazon gifts cards yesterday. Someone has taken control of my niece’s email account – the email address was correct and some of the content related to something my niece had done for me so I totally trusted the email had come from her. My niece is on vacation and I assumed it was difficult for her to action what I was asked to purchase The request was for 2 x £100 Amazon gift cards to secure an online purchase and for me to then take a photo of the cards showing both codes and email back. It was when these people came back asking for another 3 x £100 cards that I panicked and got a message to my niece who confirmed it was nothing to do with her. Feeling pretty sick about it all!

Mandy Knight says:
20 June 2022

Hi just had the can you do me a favour scam signed by wife of a distant cousin. The favour was to buy gift card for her niece as she couldn’t because she was travelling. I fortunately realised it was a scam as I couldn’t think why she would ask me then looking at the email i notice they had not used my name.

Charlotte says:
3 July 2022

I have had similar supposedly from a friend, except that the friend was with me at the time, laughing, at the pathetic attempt to gain a Google gift card for dying niece, so I told said scammer this and they called me a liar, so I just deleted it and changed my password.