Gift Card Spear Phishing Scams

What is "spear phishing"?

Spear phishing is a form of phishing that targets people with close access to authority figures (eg, direct reports, secretaries). The scammer collects personal info about their targets from publicly-available materials including websites, social media, and past data breaches. The scammer then uses this info against targets to fool them into allowing access to information or resources (usually financial)

What is gift card spear phishing?

Gift card spear phishing is a specific scam in which a criminal --  knowing that organizations often purchase gift cards as rewards -- impersonates a high level individual such as a CEO, demanding a subordinate purchase gift cards quickly on his/her behalf.

The urgency of the email, combined with the authority figure making the demand, puts social pressure on the subordinate to obey the request. After the gift cards are purchased, typically the scammer will demand serial numbers of each card, in order to spend the balances online.

How to spot gift card spear phishing

Typically, the scammer sends you an email posing as a boss/colleague, attempting to grab your attention. This is the "hook":

(In this email, the email is clearly phony:

If you reply, the scammer then tries to gain your trust... and gives an excuse to keep the conversation restricted to email only.

After getting your agreement to help, the scammer makes the bogus request:

Presuming you purchased the gift cards, the scammer would follow up and ask you to include their info in your reply (remember, this person is still busy and can't take your call or pick up the cards in person)

How do I prevent gift card spear phishing?

While you can't prevent scammers from targeting you, you can prevent yourself from becoming their victim. Common-sense practices can easily defeat these scammers:

  • Check the email's From: address -- it is probably phony. Even if it is correct, you still shouldn't let your guard down. The sender's account could be compromised!
  • Be suspicious of email messages that have an air of urgency to them. Never let anyone persuade you to make a decision immediately. There is always enough time to verify a claim using reliable sources.
  • If you are asked to share personal info, account information or finances, cease contact with the sender and forward the email to


Article ID: 548
Wed 1/16/19 2:46 PM
Thu 1/17/19 1:08 PM