Phony $1,000 Target Gift Card is the Scam of the Year

Phony Target Gift Card Scam A fake contest for a $1,000 Target (TGT) gift card has been declared 2012's "Scam of the Year" by online complaint resolution platform Scambook.

The fraud, which Scambook spotted back in November, actually spread via text rather than through social media or email channels. Victims of this "smishing" (SMS phishing) scheme received a text reading "Your entry last month WON! Go to enter winning code 3847 to claim your FREE $1000.00 Target gift card within 24hrs." Gullible users who clicked through to the (now-defunct) website and entered the code were prompted to enter a wide range of personal information, but never got their hands on the promised gift card.

The Target scam followed similar scams promising gift cards from the likes of Walmart (WMT) and Best Buy (BBY). And according to Scambook's Kase Chong, those two scams (in January and April, respectively) were smaller test runs for the main event, which dropped like a nuclear bomb in mid-November and prompted more than a hundred complaints to Scambook overnight.

"We believe that it was meant to center around the shopping holiday season," says Chong, who estimates that between 200,000 and 350,000 people across the country received the text on their cell phone. The scammers likely used a random-number generator that picked potentially active cell numbers with a reasonably high success rate.

The Long Con; A Scam That Breeds Worse Scams

The good news is that those people who clicked through to the site weren't directly relieved of their money. Instead, they were asked a series of seemingly innocuous questions intended to steal as much personally identifying information as possible, from the victim's mailing address to the name of his or her dog.

"The private info goes into a database, and they sell marketing lists on the black market," Chong explains. "Best-case scenario, you end up getting a whole lot more targeted spam." And the worst case scenario? Your information is used in identity-theft schemes -- or to con you with further scams: By including personally identifying details about you, the next wave of phishing emails will appear more convincing. In other words, this is a scam that breeds more effective scams.

Simple common sense should help most consumers sniff out this sort of fraud: If you didn't enter a contest to win a gift card, that should be your first tip-off that something is amiss. But Chong adds that cell phones are an unregulated "wild west" that makes them particularly susceptible to this kind of fraud. For instance, texting STOP to the number texting you -- a sort of universal code for unsubcribing to text lists -- will actually backfire in this instance, as it confirms to the scammers that your number is valid, and prompts them to send you more spam texts.

If you happened to fall for this scam, but have yet to receive any blow back, don't think you're out of the woods. Chong says that victims of the scam won't know for months, so for the foreseeable future, you should treat emails (and further texts) with a high degree of suspicion. For instance, you might get an email claiming to be from your bank that presents your address and phone number as "proof" that it's from a trusted source.

But here's one thing you won't be getting: A $1,000 Target gift card.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How to Avoid Financial Scams

Avoid getting duped by financial scams.

View Course »

Timing Your Spending

How to pay less by changing when you purchase.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Their's nothing like a good scam to brighten your day!
"When you answer no to everything, you'll never be disappointed." me

"When you answer yes to everything, be prepared for a good take down." me

"Find a balance between the two, that works for you and never waiver." me

"If your silver came out of the ground, it belong's back in the ground."

csg out~~


January 23 2013 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The stupitidy of Peple in this Cuontry never caeses to ammaze me!!!

January 23 2013 at 2:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to R's comment

You're right. and It's the love of money that makes people fall for stupid stuff like that.. hey tc

January 23 2013 at 2:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The first thing I thought about when reading about this scam is Mitt Romney. Is Bain Capital behind this? I'm a little bit suspicious.

January 23 2013 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When you're that stupid you almost deserve to lose.

January 23 2013 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

hey stupids if it is true good to be true and you go for it I don't feel your pain and if in doubt call the corporation
one thing no company hands out free of anything

January 23 2013 at 10:21 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Tara Friendly

I couldnt spend $10 in a Target they are so far behind Costco & Wal Mart I never shop there. Remind me of the old crummy K-Marts

January 23 2013 at 10:17 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I'm sorry, but you have to be dumber than a bag of rocks to fall for a scam like this.

January 23 2013 at 10:01 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

In this day and age of hackers and scamers, people should be aware already not to give out any personal information via phone, text, computer, etc. If it sounds to good to be true, it one gives anything for free, especially a $1000.00 DON'T GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFO.

January 23 2013 at 9:15 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I always deleted that message.

January 23 2013 at 8:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Yeah they sent us an email saying we won a $1,000.00 gift card from Target. My husband and I laughed about it knowing well that if it's too good to be true it is.

January 23 2013 at 7:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply