Consumer Alert: When that gift card is not a gift. NY Attorney General warns about the Boss Scam.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Today’s consumer alert comes straight from the New York State Attorney General.

New York Attorney General Tish James is so concerned about this scam, she issued a warning on Friday. She’s warning New Yorkers about the “Boss Scam.” She says we’re likely seeing it so much because so many employees are working from home.

Here’s how it works. An employee gets an email or text message from someone pretending to be their boss asking them to buy gift cards. The text message looks real because the thief will spoof the employer’s actual phone number or email address.

The message will tell the employee it’s an emergency and the cards are needed for a client. And of course, the so-called employer promises to reimburse the employee. Then the scammer asks the employee to take pictures of the claim code on the back of the card.

At that point, the gift card is like cash, and the money is gone.

According to the FTC, scammers use gift cards to steal your money more frequently than any other payment method.

You’ll remember I warned you about gift card scams last December.

I told you about a Rochester mother who got a scary phone call.

"When I first answered it was someone from the FBI,” Joy Jones recounted. “And they said my identity had been stolen had been stolen and they found a rental car that had cocaine in it and human blood in it.”

It all seemed very real because the thief appeared to be calling from the actual number of the FBI office in San Antonio, Texas. That so-called FBI agent told her a killer had stolen her identity and had access to her bank account. Jones was told to empty her accounts and to drive to multiple stores to buy gift cards. And of course, the thief asked Jones for the gift card claim codes. And with that, Jones’s money was gone – $10,000.

After our story aired on News10 NBC, good-hearted folks in Rochester gave joy $4,600s in a GoFundMe campaign, but ultimately the single mother lost $5,400 right before Christmas.

According to the FTC, the following are the gift cards most often used by scammers:

  • eBay
  • Google Play
  • Target
  • iTunes
  • Amazon

With the help of the New York Attorney-General, here’s Deanna’s Do List for avoiding gift card scams:

  • Take a pause. Scammers create a sense of urgency to prey on victims’ emotions.
  • Take a second pause. A legitimate employer will not ask you to handle company business through gift card purchases.
  • Verify any supposed emergency by reaching out directly to an employer at the number you know. Do not reply to the text or email sent, even if it appears to come from a known email or phone number.

Tips to avoid gift card scams generally:

  • Be aware of the gift card bot scam. Hackers use a GiftGhostBot and continually scan a retailer’s gift card check balance system looking for a card that’s activated. Then when you try to use your gift card, you find the balance is gone. That’s why you should use your gift cards as soon as you get them.
  • Don’t buy a gift card with an exposed claim number. Thieves will scratch off the claim number and replace the gift card. They’ll then keep checking online for the card to be loaded.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who contacts you unexpectedly asking to be sent gift cards.
  • Never purchase gift cards for the purpose of transferring money. Gift cards are solely for gifts.
  • Scammers often train their victims to give false information to retail clerks when clerks ask questions about large gift card purchases. If a retail clerk warns you that you may be the victim of a gift card scam, heed their advice and contact law enforcement officials.

If you’re a victim, contact the New York State Attorney General online or by phone at 800-771-7755.