The number of people falling victim to so-called "impersonation gift card scams" is skyrocketing in New Jersey and around the country.

Federal Trade Commission data shows in the first nine months of this year, total losses to scams where people are told to buy gifts cards as a form of payment has topped the number for all of 2020.

The scams are varied, but the con artists' main goal is to get you to go purchase a gift card, then give them the authorization code over the phone.

Not just any card, however, will do.

Scammers overwhelmingly have a preference for gift cards from Target, and no one seems to know why.

The FTC says so far this year, "over twice as much money was reported lost on Target gift cards than any other brand. Google Play gift cards were next, followed by Apple, eBay, and Walmart cards."

Even if they don't specifically request a Target gift card, they seem to prefer whatever card you buy, you get it at a Target store. The FTC says Walmart, Best Buy, CVS, and Walgreens stores are also popular with scammers.

Scammers use lots of tricks to avoid detection. People often say the scammer sent them to several store locations to make multiple purchases. Scammers tell people to stay on the phone with the scammer the entire time – a trick to make sure they don't call anyone who might help. Scammers even coach people on what to say if a cashier asks questions; they don't want anyone to stop the scam, and they know store employees are often the only people who can help. - FTC report

The media often reports on each new scam as it surfaces, or old scams that are targeting a specific local geography. Many wonder who would fall for such a scam.

The answer is a lot of people.

Not only are the number of reported gift card scams and losses increasing every year, how much is being taken is also rising.

The FTC reports, "losses of $5,000 or more have increased from about 8% of reports in 2018 to about 14% in the first nine months of 2021."

In New Jersey, the FTC recorded more 11,454 scam reports and more than a quarter were the so-called "imposter scam." That can include variations of the con artist asking for a gift card.

Losses in New Jersey to reported scams is nearly $25 million, though experts believe that real number is much higher because a large number of scams go unreported.

If you believe you have been a victim of a scam, report it to your local police. You can also file a report with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at or call them at 800-242-5846.

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