(WFXR) — It’s a growing scam trend, criminals targeting gift cards. According to AARP, nearly a quarter of consumers have received or were given gift cards that had no funds attached to them.

More than $233 million was lost from gift card scams last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). WFXR News spoke with Kathy Strokes, Director of Fraud Prevention Programs with the AARP Fraud Watch Network about how you can stay safe when purchasing gift cards.

What kind of gift card scams are circulating right now?

Stokes says there are two types of gift card scams: one where there is no money on the card, and the other is a financial obligation where the scammer convinces the victim to pay with a gift card.

What is the largest gift card scam?

There are two types of widespread scams:

  • The long con is where the scammer continues to try to get money out of the victim.
  • The “can you do me a favor” scam involves the scammer impersonating a boss or organization where they get the victim to buy several gift cards

Why do scammers target gift cards?

Stokes talked about how gift cards are readily available for consumers and law enforcement has a hard time tracking them.

Are senior citizens or younger adults more the target of these scammers?

These gift card scams target not just senior citizens but young adults as well. Stokes says the difference is young adults targeted in scams can recover from losing money whereas senior citizens have a more difficult time recovering.

How can you safely purchase a gift card?

Stokes told WFXR News that the best way to purchase a gift card is to buy it directly from the issuer. However, if you are planning to buy from a store, look at the card and make sure it isn’t manipulated, and think about buying maybe the tenth card on the shelve, Stokes says. Also, hold onto the activation receipt and register the card if you can.

How is AARP working with lawmakers to combat these frauds?

AARP is working with lawmakers and talking with the gift card companies to help reduce the risk of scams.

What are some red flags consumers can look for when it comes to these scams?

Stokes says some red flags to look out for are scammers will target their victims by using emotions. She also says gift cards can’t be used to pay off utility bills or pay your taxes.

For more information about how to spot and avoid scams, get help from specialists and other free resources head to the AARP Fraud Watch Network website.