Gift card scams

Last updated: February 2, 2024
Audience: All UW

Members of the UW community are actively being targeted with gift card scam messages. The emails typically appear to be sent from a supervisor, including deans, directors, department heads, and/or vice presidents. The supervisor’s name is usually displayed in the signature line and may also appear as the sender, but the emails are actually sent by imposters using non-UW accounts (such as Gmail) or compromised UW NetID accounts.

The ultimate goal of the criminal sending the message is to convince the recipient to buy some gift cards, which are difficult to trace and easy to turn into cash.

A typical feature of these scams is that they often include a request for you to send your personal phone number or non-UW email address, as this helps the scammer bypass any protections in place on university systems.

Other common features of these scams include:

  • The initial email is often short and/or casual, such as “Got a minute?” “Are you available?” or simply “Available?”
  • Messages may appear to be from University employees as well as from supervisors, and they may instruct students to buy the cards to pay for tuition and other fees. Please note that University employees will never ask you to pay using gift cards.
  • Gift card scams might also impersonate government agencies and services, such as the IRS, police or municipal courts, and immigration services to try to fool users into making phony payments.

What to do

  • Be wary of unusual requests from supervisors and other University personnel, including requests to use your personal phone number and email address.
  • Examine the sender’s email and look for unusual variations of their usual address. Sometimes a letter or number is added, or a spoofed UW address may be used. Contact them, preferably by phone or in person, to verify any unusual request.
  • Visit the Phishing Examples page to view similar messages.
  • Review our infographic and pass it along to co-workers and friends in the UW community.
  • If you are the victim of a gift card scam, report it to and to law enforcement, such as UW Police.
  • Report any of these email messages to
  • Send other types of phishing messages as an attachment to


Federal Trade Commission: Gift Card Scams

Cybercrime Support Network and Google: Scam Spotter

Phishing Examples

Gift Card Scam Infographic