GALLATIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – They’re convenient, can be purchased almost anywhere, give quick access to cash, and aren’t connected to a bank account. All reasons why gift cards are a popular choice for shoppers and for those wanting to cheat people out of cash explained Jenny Grounds the Chief Marketing Officer with Cybercrime Support Network. “It is a $3.3 billion industry annually. They’re really getting smart with how they can scam people.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, since 2018, Americans reported losing a total of nearly $245 million, with a median individual loss of $840 – all paid in gift cards. The trick that fools many is made by someone pretending to be an employer.

“In that email, a boss is asking an employee to purchase gift cards as a means for holiday employee gifts,” explained Grounds, “It looks as if it is coming from your boss directly. it has the same imagery and language that your boss would typically use.”

While that may seem out of place, these scammers prey on people wanting to make a good impression. “You want to create a sense of – responsiveness and providing good support to your employer. So with that sense of urgency, we tend to act quickly. And we’re not really taking the time to think about, is this unusual?”

Oftentimes, the alleged boss makes an excuse as to why they can’t talk. “The boss is going to ask
you to purchase them from multiple stores, and then immediately provide them with the serial number and the pin number so that they can have access to that money, which is virtually untraceable,” Grounds said.

At that moment, the money is gone.

According to the FTC, another common scam, nearly half of the people who reported paying someone posing as a government authority said they paid with a gift card.

Major Tim Bailey, Chief of Detectives for the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office recounted calls like that, “just got a call claiming to be with the Chicago PD and scammed into buying gift cards.”

Bailey also read through a pile of recent cases, “this one is someone claiming to be from the DEA, even gives a badge number and a name.”

Callers demand victims buy what they call “electronic vouchers” — or gift cards– to avoid arrest. “Don’t believe what everyone tells you,” warned Bailey. “They’re good at this and they’re aggressive. Law enforcement will never call and ask you to pay us over the phone.”

If you’re unsure, Bailey says hang up. You can verify the number and call the agency back directly. And remember, gift cards are gifts, not payments.

Scammers are trying new ways to steal your money throughout Middle Tennessee. Ahead of the holidays, protecting your funds is incredibly important. News 2 investigates the new tactics scammers are using now and how to best protect yourself from the bad guys. Watch special reports all day Thursday in every newscast and on WKRN.com.