LAWRENCEVILLE, Pa. (WETM) – Pennsylvania State Police are investigating a scam that cost a woman $9,000.

The woman told police that she received a Facebook message that appeared to be from a friend claiming the friend had received a large grant after paying a $3,000 fee and providing contact information for The International Development Association.

The International Development Association is an international financial institution and a member of the World Bank Group which offers concessional loans and grants to the world’s poorest developing countries.

The victim was instructed to purchase $4,000 worth of gift cards and prove them to the person sending the message. The victim was told that there were issues with various government agencies and that she would have to send more money via gift cards.

After sending $9,000 the victim discovered that the profile was not actually her friend’s but had been made to appear similar to it.

Residents are reminded to double check with friends or family before sending money and to never send large amounts of money via gift cards.

An in-depth investigative study by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) found an increase in reports of scams involving gift cards, with hundreds of millions of dollars in losses over the last few years.

According to the BBB, consumers reported nearly the losses for gift card type payments between 2017 and 2020. Consumers lost an average of $700 to gift card scams and those over 65 were more likely to lose money than younger consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission reported that roughly one in four people who lost money to a scam not related to an online purchase paid with a gift card, with reported losses of $245 million since 2017.

Red flags to know and avoid gift card scams:

  • Government agencies requesting payment. No government agency ever requests money through gift cards.
  • Statements that buying gift cards is a safe way to make a payment. Providing the numbers for a gift card is like sending cash, and the money is rarely recoverable. Gift card payment requests are a big red flag for a scam.
  • Keep the receipt when buying a gift card. Keep the physical card as well. These may help prove that the card was paid for and activated if problems arise later.
  • Inspect the card carefully before buying it to be sure it has not been tampered with. Some scammers open the card to get the numbers on the back so that they can take the money when the card is later activated.

For more information on gift card scams, visit the Better Business Bureau website.