Attorney General James Issues Warning To New Yorkers About Scam Targeting Employees

August 13, 2021

New York Attorney General Letitia James today issued an alert to New Yorkers from Harlem to the Hudson, warning them about the “Boss Scam.”

A common text and email scam in which fraudsters pose as a consumer’s employer and request gift cards due to a purported work emergency.

This scam may be on the rise during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic since many employees are working remotely.

“Due to COVID-19 safety measures, many employees are still working remotely which makes it easier to fall for this common scam,” said Attorney General James. “A legitimate employer will never ask you to purchase gift cards in order to pay clients or for other business purchases. I urge all New Yorkers to be on the alert for this type of fraud, and to protect themselves and their wallets by following our simple tips.”

The scam typically works as follows: An employee receives a text or an email from someone pretending to be their employer who claims there is an urgent matter.

The text or email may ‘spoof’ an employer’s actual name, phone number, or email address, making it seem legitimate. The ‘employer’ then requests that the employee buy a certain number of Target or other store gift cards in specific denominations and promises to reimburse the employee quickly.

As in the real example below, the ‘employer’ may ask the employee to scratch off the back of the card to reveal the PIN or claim code — thus making the gift card the equivalent of cash — and send photos of the card to the scammer.

Real example of a 2021 text message from a ‘fake’ employer to an employee seeking $1,400 in Target gift cards.

Gift card scams of all types are very prevalent. Most involve some form of imposter scam, such as scammers pretending to be employers, the government, family, or tech support companies.

A December 2020 data analysis by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows that “About one in four [consumers] who lost money to a fraud say they paid with a gift card.

In fact, gift cards have topped the list of reported fraud payment methods every year since 2018. During that time, people reported losing a total of nearly $245 million, with a median individual loss of $840.”

According to the FTC, some of the most reported gift and reload card brands consumers mentioned in fraud reports included eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes, and Amazon.

Attorney General James offers the following tips to protect against the “Boss” gift card scam:

  • 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 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.

New Yorkers who have been targeted by this scam are urged to file a complaint by completing and submitting a Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau online complaint form or by calling (800) 771-7755.

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