Few people know Steam scams better than GameStop employees.
As a top retailer of gaming-oriented gift cards, GameStop has watched as consumers come in, seeking to purchase the cards for one fraudulent purpose or another.
Yet few are as heartbreaking as the one a store manager saw several years ago.
An older woman entered the store, desperate to buy hundreds of dollars in Steam gift cards. The manager asked why, and the woman had a simple explanation:
She ran a Facebook Kenny Chesney fan club. Kenny Chesney himself had joined the club, and she was so excited to hang out with him, that she was all too happy to help when he said he needed money for touring.
“Kenny Chesney” wanted payment for that tour in Steam cards. Unfortunately, the manager couldn’t talk her out of helping her favorite country star.
Steam cards will not help pay for a country artist’s tour expenses (or any other non-gaming experiences, for that matter).
What Is A Steam Card Used For?
A Steam card, often referred to as a Steam gift card, is used as a form of currency on the Steam digital distribution platform. Steam, developed by Valve Corporation, is a popular platform for buying, playing, and discussing video games.
Here’s how a Steam card is used:
- Purchase: You can buy a Steam card from various retail stores or online platforms. These cards come with a predetermined monetary value.
- Redemption: Once you have a Steam card, you can redeem it on your Steam account. This is usually done by entering the unique code on the card into the Steam client or website.
- Steam Wallet: The value of the card is then added to your Steam Wallet. The Steam Wallet is essentially a digital balance associated with your Steam account.
- Game and Content Purchase: The funds in your Steam Wallet can be used to purchase games, software, in-game items, and other content available on the Steam platform. This includes a vast library of video games, from indie titles to AAA releases.
- Gifts: Steam cards are also commonly used as gifts. You can give someone a Steam card, and they can redeem it to add the funds to their Steam Wallet.
What are Steam Card Scams?
Part of gaming is about finding the content you want, buying it, and downloading it to your console.
Steam is one of the most popular services for getting that content and a distribution service that has been around for decades.
A Steam gift card can be the gift that keeps on giving to the gamer in your life. In fact, around Christmastime, parents and grandparents rush to retailers to grab a card as a stocking stuffer or extra gift.
Yet as with any much-wanted gift card, Steam gift cards can be targets for scammers.
As it turns out, criminals aren’t huge gamers (at least when scamming people).
But Steam cards can only be used to purchase games, gaming hardware, and anything else sold on the Steam platform, so what are they up to?
These Steams cards can be useful to criminals for a variety of reasons:
- Resold for cash
- Used to purchase games and merchandise (some are interested in gaming)
- Traded with gamers for cash or products
You’d think gamers were the biggest target for Steam card scams, but that’s not true. Steam scams take various forms, and they can hit you even if you’ve never heard of the platform until today.
✎ Related: Discord Steam Scams ➔
Why Would A Scammer Want a Steam Card?
Scammers often prefer Steam gift cards as a means of payment because:
- Anonymity: They can use or sell the card without being easily traced.
- Irreversibility: Transactions are hard to undo, so victims can’t recover their money.
- Hard to Trace: Gift card transactions are difficult for authorities to trace back to the scammer.
- Global Use: Steam cards work worldwide, making them convenient for scammers operating globally.
- Familiarity: Since gamers commonly use Steam cards, scammers exploit this to trick people into thinking it’s a normal payment method.
People should be cautious and verify a suspicious request for payment via Steam cards, as it’s a common tactic used by scammers and others. Legitimate businesses usually don’t ask for payment this way.
Common Types of Steam Card Scams
- Gift Card Purchase Scams
- Tech Support Scams
- Steam Bill Payment Scams
- Personal Donation Scams
- PayPal Scams
- Prize Scams
Gift card scams have become prevalent in recent years.
Scammers never run out of ways to exploit consumers; Steam cards are an example. The cards can only be used for a narrow list of purchases on one platform; still, scammers want to get their hands on them.
Yet Steam scams happen across multiple platforms, as well as by phone, text, and phishing email, so it’s important to be aware of these different types so you can stay on guard.
1. Steam Gift Card Purchase Scams
What Is It?: If you’re an avid Steam user, an offer for a discount Steam gift card can be pretty enticing. For only $25 or $50, you can get a gift card worth $100. What a deal, right?
But if you see an offer like this, it’s a scam. Fraudsters set up websites offering great deals on Steam cards to steal your money or your credentials. You might click over and find no card for sale, but the scammers have captured your personal or account information.
How to Spot It: These scams are often advertised with flashy, obnoxious graphics. But some scammers may disguise their offers as regular ads or posts designed to make you believe the site is legitimate. When you click over, you might find yourself on a site that looks exactly like an existing retailer.
In many cases, though, the website features an amateur design and numerous errors. The site could ask for personal information, require your username and password, or simply seek to snatch your money. You probably will never receive the gift card; if you do, it’ll be invalid.
How to Avoid It: If you’re looking for discount gift cards, stick to sites like Raise and CardCash. You might not get the biggest discounts, but at least you’ll have the backing of the website if something goes wrong. Avoid clicking on flashy ads or inputting information into forms after clicking over from an ad.
2. Tech Support Scams
What Is It?: This scam hits your Steam Wallet, where you effectively store any gift cards you acquire. Someone contacts you, claiming to be a Steam administrator. The admin says your account has been compromised, and the only way to get it back is to pay a fee. This fee will come from your Steam Wallet.
In a variation of the scam, an administrator directs you to a page where your Steam username and password are captured.
How to Spot It: Steam does not reach out to users to let them know about account restrictions. You’ll learn about such a restriction through an error message when logging into your Steam account. If someone claims to have reported you, it’s a scam. Steam disregards false account reports. All communication with Steam representatives happens through the Steam platform.
How to Avoid it: If you have any issues with Steam, the place to go is the Steam Support section. If you can log in, you can reach out to support from there. If you can’t, there’s also a link to get support without logging in. Make sure you report any scams to Steam support.
3. Steam Bill Payment Scams
What Is It? Someone contacts you, claiming to be a creditor collecting on a bill. The person may even say they’re from the IRS. Either way, the solution to your debts is simply to purchase a Steam gift card online and use it to pay your bill. The scammer may even use threatening or urgent language.
How to Spot It: Steam is not a form of payment accepted by debt collectors or creditors, and the IRS certainly doesn’t accept it. No bill collector will take a gift card for a video gaming platform as payment for monies owed, period. The instant the request is made, you should disregard it as a scam.
How to Avoid It: If someone calls you claiming to be a creditor or debt collector, ask for information on the debt in writing. Debt collectors are required to provide certain data, known as validation information, in writing upon request, but any creditor should also be able to provide written debit confirmation.
If someone asks you to purchase a gift card online to pay a bill, assume it’s a scam and disengage.
4. Personal Donation Scams
What is it? Someone reaches out to you on social media. It could be a stranger or someone you know. In the latter case, a stranger might have hacked into an acquaintance’s account or created an impersonation account.
The message tells a sob story and asks that you provide a donation in the form of a Steam gift card. You may have contacted the person offering assistance after seeing a post requesting it on social media.
How to Spot It: The mention of a Steam gift card should be a red flag. Steam gift cards can only be used to purchase products sold on the Steam platform, primarily video games and gaming hardware. When someone in need requests payment via a Steam gift card, the person likely doesn’t need help.
How to Avoid It: Make it a practice never to give Steam gift cards to anyone, especially strangers. If you have purchased gift cards but haven’t yet handed the codes over to the stranger, take the cards back to the retailer for a refund.
5. PayPal Scams
What Is It? There are a couple of ways PayPal can be looped into Steam Card scams. One happens when someone talks you into buying one or more cards, promising they’ll reimburse you via PayPal. They might even send you a legit-looking PayPal invoice “proving” they’ve paid you via PayPal.
Another version has you buying items for someone, only for them to later send you an invoice stating you still owe money. It’s okay, though. They’ll accept the remaining amount in Steam gift cards. Once you send the gift card, you learn the invoice is fake.
How to Spot It: Any request to purchase Steam gift cards associated with PayPal payments is likely a scam. There should be no reason to purchase Steam cards for a stranger, whether PayPal is involved or not.
How to Avoid It: Only purchase Steam gift cards for people you know. If someone asks you to purchase Steam cards for them for any reason, treat it as a scam.
6. Prize Scams
What Is It? “Win a free Steam gift card.” That sounds like a good deal, right? You might see that offer on your favorite social media site and want to believe it’s legit.
To enter, you’ll need to provide some information. It might be personally identifiable information (PII), bank account numbers or passwords, or a small fee. You follow the outlined steps and may not even realize you’ve been scammed until you learn no gift card is ever coming.
How to Spot It: These prize opportunities are typically found on social media sites or in ads. The social media account might have a large follower base. But be aware that social media accounts can buy followers or even hack established accounts to scam people. It can be tough to verify that a giveaway like this is legit.
How to Avoid It: Refrain from entering unless you can definitively rule out that a giveaway is a scam. If you do enter a contest, be cautious about the information you provide as part of the entry. Could it be used for identity theft? If so, it’s best to walk away.
Avoiding Steam Card Frauds
Steam gift cards can be a great present for the gamer in your life. Yet they also attract scammers.
To avoid falling victim to fraud on Steam, here are some important safety tips to keep in mind.
1. Don’t Buy Gift Cars for Strangers
From a young age, we’re told not to talk to strangers.
Yet the Internet has led many of us to forget that all-too-important lesson.
It can be easy to fall into friendships with the people we encounter day after day, even if we’ve never met them. That goes for social media as well as gaming platforms.
With so many gift card scams, it’s important to revisit that rule from childhood. Gift cards should be reserved for people you know.
If someone wants Steam gift cards as a donation or payment for money you owe, see it as a scam and say “no.”
2. Purchase with Caution
Being a scam victim isn’t the end of the road. You may have recourse.
First, pay attention to return policies when you’re buying the card. At what point can you return the card?
Second, pay using a method that can be disputed if you’re defrauded. Your credit card offers zero liability protection, so that’s typically the safest option.
Third, be wary of any offers for discounted, free, or bulk pricing on Steam cards. These are warning signs you may be dealing with a scammer.
3. Wait to Activate Your Cards
Adding a gift card to your account can be tempting as soon as you receive it. However, your wallet can be vulnerable to hackers and scammers.
Therefore, it’s best to hold off on activating your gift card until you’re ready to use it.
Tuck it away in a safe place. Don’t carry it around in your wallet or leave it in an area of your home where guests might find it.
Hackers aren’t the only ones you stave off by keeping your card out of your wallet. It can also serve as a deterrent when a scammer asks for it.
Think about it: If you have to dig it out of hiding and add it to your wallet, it will give you extra time to reconsider.
An unactivated gift card can sometimes be returned for a refund. Once activated, the funds operate as cash. If they’re lost or stolen, they’re gone.
Recovering from a Steam Card Fraud
Unfortunately, scammers can find us even when we’re careful.
Here are some things you can do to recover from a Steam card fraud.
1. Get Your Money Back
Where are you in the gifting process?
Say you just arrived home from a retail shop, and you have the gift card in your hand. Yet you realize you’ve been scammed.
The best thing to do is return to the store and beg for mercy. Many retailers have “no returns” policies on their gift cards solely to combat deception. But it’s always worth a try, right?
If it’s a digital card and you’ve already sent it, whether you can get a refund depends on whether it’s been redeemed.
If getting your money back from the original retailer doesn’t work, look at how you paid.
Most payment providers have measures in place to reduce your liability for fraud. PayPal and Venmo both will let you dispute charges, for instance. If you paid using a credit or debit card, you can dispute the unauthorized transaction through the provider’s usual processes.
2. Protect Your Steam Account
If the scammer reached out to you through the Steam platform, protecting your account is important.
Did you know most Steam account hijackings happen because someone gains access to a Steam user’s email account?
So your best course of action is to change your email account password. Make it unique and tough to guess.
Enabling two-factor authentication can also help protect your account.
If your account is hacked, reset your email password and then reset your Steam password to reclaim your account.
3. Consider Identity Theft Protection
Your Steam account isn’t the only thing scammers can confiscate. With the right information, someone could sign up for credit in your name or even pretend to be you and get a job or apartment.
How does this happen?
You enter a free gift card contest or give a catfisher a little too much information about you.
Data like your contact information and Social Security number can be all it takes for an identity thief to pose as you.
Services like Aura, IdentityForce, and LifeLock specialize in protecting us against identity theft.
- You’ll get an alert when fraud is detected related to your information.
- You’ll have help with the financial cost of cleaning up identity theft.
- You’ll have expert assistance with repairing the damage identity thieves cause.
Whether or not you think the Steam gift card scammer grabbed your credentials, this protection can give you peace of mind.
Steam helps connect gamers to the products they need, and a Steam gift card is a great way to pass on the gift of gaming.
But no good thing is without its scammers.
By knowing the risks, setting up proper security, and using services such as Aura, you can protect yourself and still enjoy the benefits of Steam cards.
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