– The warning couldn’t be blunter: “Any time someone asks you to solve a problem using gift cards, it’s a scam.”

So say consumer fraud experts as we head into the holiday season — an especially popular time for scammers who love tricking people into buying gift cards as step one of their own nefarious schemes. And once they’ve wormed the PIN number on the back of those cards from their victims, well … as the Federal Trade Commission notes, “they can get quick cash while staying anonymous.”

How much cash? More than $429 million since 2018, according to the latest FTC figures. And just to show you how trendy these con artists can be, some are now selling the cards for Bitcoin on online exchanges instead of just, say, auctioning them off the old-fashioned way on normal websites.

So how could anyone fall for a scam like this?

It’s all about plausible excuses.

“Scammers prey on people’s fear and have just enough personal information to create a sense of panic,” says Jenny Grounds, chief marketing officer of Cybercrime Support Network, an organization combating cybercrime for individuals and small businesses and educating consumers about scams through resource platforms like scamspotter.org. “It’s that panic that makes their targets feel they need to act immediately without a chance to stop and think.”

Here are some common scenarios to be on the alert for:

  • The Email from Your “Boss” Scam. Either by hacking into their account or using a…

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