Guys! Guys! I won a free $500 giftcard from Amazon!
Except I haven’t received it yet. And I won it five months ago. Oh, and I had to submit my social security number in order to verify that I was a US citizen. They also asked me to mail in my credit card to their P.O. Box so they could make a few small sample purchases for further verification. At least I own a yacht now. Haven’t seen it, though…
Free gift card scams. They aren’t cool. Let’s deal with them.
Analyze The Email Account
These types of scams are almost always supposedly sent out by seemingly trustworthy sites such as Amazon or eBay, and much like the web URL, they may appear to be sent by the sites themselves. However, scammers are sneaky, and they thrive on carelessness.
The first thing you should check is to see if the name associated with their account is different than the actual email address. Sure, the name may pop up in your inbox as Amazon.com Giftcards but the reality is that the actual email address itself may be firstname.lastname@example.org.
(If anyone actually has that address for personal usage, you’re an idiot, and I don’t care if people spam your inbox.)
The second thing is to see if the email address itself is authentic. Even if you’ve verified the name and actual email address, check again. Rather than @amazon.com it may actually be @amozon.com. This is very, very easy to overlook, and sometimes these sites will actually be set to redirect to the actual website’s homepage.
Check The URL
So maybe you didn’t receive a lead to the potential scam via email. Maybe your great-grand-aunt invited you to like a FREE GIFT CARD!!!1! page on Facebook in hopes that even if she doesn’t win, you’ll be kind enough to give her the card so she can buy a bigger bird hotel than the O’Neills have next door. Freaking O’Neills. And their little dog, too. Even if it is adorable. Yeesh.
While the Facebook page may look authentic, check and see if the About section is pulling a similar trick with the website address. Again, it may be amozon.com as opposed to amazon.com – no bueno. Facebook actually had a similar problem with a magical Amazon Gift Card not too long ago.
Look For Past Winners
Here on MakeUseOf, we occasionally publish the winners of our giveaways. Sometimes they even write us and send photos of themselves with their prize! It’s all pretty fantastic. But there’s a more practical reason that we do it. What is it?
Our readers are the judge, jury, and witnesses when it comes to analyzing our content, and only you can verify as to whether or not it’s authentic. While we hope that our articles are accurate enough for you to find us trustworthy, we understand that sometimes you need a little more than just helpful material. With that said, see if these similar giveaway sites care enough about their users to publish the winners.
Also, I’m not talking about nearly anonymous quotes like this: “NOTASCAM.COM GAVE ME A FREE $500 GIFTCARD TO MCDONALD’S, A MASSAGE, AND A NEW PAIR OF SNEAKERS ALL FOR FREE (and my social security number, bank info, mailing address, and shoe size) – SIDNEY B.”
Quotes like this are crap, so don’t pay attention to them. Try to see if said site is actually putting forth effort to verify that they are legit or whether they’re just another gift card scam. If there’s no winner history, then it’s probably a no-go.
Investigate The Host
There are so many obvious mistakes that the hosts of these types of things make that I had to put it all under one category. Although I could go into detail for each and every single one of them, I’d rather cut things short and keep it all reasonably concise. So here’s a list you of hints you should be looking for:
- Typos in all host literature
- Non-working URLs on the host’s site, Facebook page, emails, etc.
- Working URLs in the same locations that link to fake sites
- Working URLs that link only to the homepage of supposedly associated sites
- Email addresses tied to common, free providers
- Recently-developed websites (check WHOIS)
Basically, this is all common sense. Rather than assuming, “HOT DANG, MAKEUSEOF IS GIVING AWAY A FREE $1000 GIFT CARD FROM NEWEGG!” actually take a look at who is providing this information. If everything seems credible (the site URL, the email URL, existing winners, etc.) it still may not be enough to say that the gift card is legit. You may even want to look at the homepage’s source code for any possible leads.
The mastermind behind the gift card scam may have come up with a crafty way to make all of his appearances rather authentic, or you may have very well just looked over a few key elements during your previous investigations. For a proper analogy, parents still check the packaging of their children’s candy during Halloween festivities. Even if the packaging looks genuine from afar, the contents inside may not be.
I’m not trying to make you paranoid. This is just the reality of our world, and we are all having to adjust our Common-Sense-o-Meters. For instance, you probably don’t download files from unidentified email senders anymore.
Long ago, you may have been rather paranoid about viruses, worms, and the like, but nowadays, you probably don’t even give it a second thought. No, I’m not trying to instill gift-card-fueled fear in your hearts – I’m just trying to make you aware.
Here we are, dear MakeUseOfites – the end of yet another article brought you by this great tech site. However, it’s not just the writers who deliver great tips and more. Our readers do, too.
With that said, what other tips do you have for recognizing and avoiding free gift card scams? Have you ever fallen for one? How did you recover?