By Mark Hedin
Ethnic Media Services

Gift cards — prepaid credit-card-like financial instruments — are for gifts. Just ask the government.

Use them, perhaps, to give your style-conscious niece who lives far away the chance to shop for something she’ll actually wear. But DON’T use a gift card to help rescue that niece, or anyone else, from sudden misfortune or a mishap, and especially not because you got an urgent call from someone with surprising news, needs or an offer. You’re only being robbed.

That message was reinforced in a media teleconference Oct. 23 with Federal Trade Commission representatives Monica Vaca and Lois Greisman organized by Ethnic Media Services.
The FTC urges anyone contacted by a person who wants to be paid via a gift card — iTunes and Google Play are popular just now— to put down the phone, take a deep breath and call the law.

“Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always a scammer,” the FTC’s website Consumer Sentinel Program says.

“There is not a single legitimate merchant, government or agency that will ever ask for a payment in that way,” Greisman said.

For more information, go to the Consumer Sentinel Program at, or, where there’s advice, a trove of data on various ways people have been cheated and statistics showing that people of all ages are targeted and fall victim to the scams.