Published Published April 10, 2024
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Steam gift card scams and how to avoid them

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According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), $690 million has been lost to gift card scams since 2020. Among them are scams with Steam gift cards, which target people who use the online gaming platform.

Millions of people worldwide access Steam regularly. The relative untraceableness of physical and digital gift cards on this platform makes them a breeding ground for money launderers. Below, you’ll learn more about Steam Gift card scams, how they work, and what you can do to prevent them.

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What are Steam gift cards?

A Steam gift card is a gift certificate that can be redeemed via the gaming platform to purchase video games, software, or in-game items. 

Steam gift cards are available in both physical and digital forms. The physical gift card is available in $20, $40, and $50 forms, while the digital one has more options but you can buy it only if you have an account. Steam wallet codes (activation codes) can be found physically on the card and digitally through gift card purchase receipts. 

Both digital and physical gift cards must be redeemed via the Steam wallet. Once redeemed, you can’t transfer funds between Steam accounts.

Activating a card and adding funds to your Steam account yourself is generally secure. So, would-be thieves must take creative approaches to access your money.

How do Steam card scams work?

Steam card scams work similarly to other gift card scams. In most cases, the ultimate goal is to get you to give the scammers Steam card activation codes. 

Usually, scammers pressure victims to give them Steam cards by threatening with some loss (like a lost account). They can then take the codes and:

  • Sell Steam gift cards on illicit marketplaces
  • Get games or items and then resell them
  • Notify Steam support that the gift card was used mistakenly and they need the funds back

To get value from gift cards, scammers must resell them themselves or resell products bought with the cards. From this point, the money is effectively laundered and difficult to trace. 

Alternatively, scammers can try and sell you fake codes or intimidate and trick you into giving up login credentials or personal information. 

Notably, a Steam gift card doesn’t need to be bought before scams occur. Instead, it can start with any gathered or falsified information – having a Steam account is enough to become a potential victim.

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Common Steam card scams to watch out for

Impersonations of trusted organizations

Attackers pretending to be trusted organizations is one of the most common scams around numerous online platforms. In this case, scammers pretend to be an entity you associate with. For example, you might get a call from someone claiming to be your bank, telling you they’re about to freeze your account unless you provide them with gift card codes to “pay fees.”

The fear of having stolen credit cards or accounts might dull your common sense that would suggest that there’s no logical connection between bank and Steam accounts and such a form of payment seems odd. Scammers use this fear to pressure you to purchase gift cards, providing them with activation codes.

In these cases, the scammers might not have access to your accounts. Instead, they might have found information that you have a Steam account and used this information to manipulate you.

Impersonations of Steam admins

Whether through email or another messaging service, scammers can use fake profiles to impersonate Steam administration. They might also ask to be added to your Steam friends list, putting some official title as their online handle.

Much like the previous example, the “admin” will threaten that you might lose your Steam account or report some problem with a gift card that requires urgent attention. Alternatively, scammers can use fake credentials to offer “free” games or other promotions that will eventually turn out to have some tricky terms aiming at your money or personal data.

Fake admins might even request login credentials to overtake your account and use it to purchase gift cards or hold it for ransom. Moreover, by hacking your account they’ll have access to your credit card data. 

Phishing emails

Email phishing is a type of cyberattack when you receive a malicious email tricking you into giving up some personal and sensitive information, stealing your money through fake invoice links, or infecting your device with malware. 

Such emails can be tricky to spot because scammers study real Steam emails, copy their format, and use them to fool unsuspecting customers.

They may falsify all kinds of things from problems with your gift card activation to getting a fake prize or promotion.

Phishing emails usually contain malicious links or forms that require you to input your personal details, gift card codes, or credit card data.

Fake PayPal invoices

Fake PayPal invoices might be sent via phishing emails or messages. Just like in the previous case, as one of the most well-known businesses in the world, PayPal invoices and pages are often copied almost identically.

Such invoices may indicate that you get a payback for a Steam gift card or, on the contrary, ask for a payment. Alternatively, it may contain a phony receipt link for an already successful transaction if scammers find out that your payment method is PayPal. In either case, the links are fake and will steal your payment info and account details.

Fake Steam websites

In some cases, phishing emails and random messages don’t ask you directly for a Steam gift card. Instead, they contain a link to a fake website. The usual urging is to “confirm account information” or resolve some “issue.”

You enter your login credentials from there, sometimes alongside personally identifiable information (PII). But since the website is fake, all these details go to scammers.

Romance scams

A romance scam is when fraudsters impersonate someone you might be attracted to. This can happen both on Steam and outside the platform. They take time to gain your trust and then use it to ask for a gift card.

Whether you’re looking for gaming friends or a romantic partner on Steam, both come with some risks. Be careful about who you interact with and add to your friends list. If you don’t know them personally but they ask for Steam wallet codes, gift cards, or help with any kind of activation that involves money, consider it a red flag.

Be also wary of sharing any information that could help scammers hack your accounts or steal your identity. 

new scam involving stream card

9 tips to avoid a Steam gift card scam

To avoid becoming a victim of a Steam gift card scam, follow these tips:

  1. Be careful who you activate cards from: If you don’t know the party you received the code from, do not activate the card. It can be charged back and given back to the funding party. Even if you purchase digital content, these balances can be taken from you.
  2. Thoroughly check emails and URLs: Double-check the email address before you click any links to make sure it comes from a legitimate entity. You should also double-check the URL before clicking a link.
  3. Don’t verify balances: When selling gift cards, don’t verify balances over the phone or any other insecure method. Scammers can hack such means of communication and steal activation codes for later use.
  4. Only activate cards when you are ready to use them: If you have a physical gift card, only activate it when you plan on using it. Activated cards and their PIN codes might end up on scammer’s databases which will increase the odds of you being targeted.
  5. Review the gift cards attentively: If you have a physical card, check if the silver strip (which hides the code) has been tampered with.
  6. Pay with a credit card: Using a credit card instead of cash will allow you to contact the card issuer in case you become a victim and dispute the charges or get some help.
  7. Stay alert: if you’re contacted about some issues, don’t rush into action. Take your time to evaluate the situation to decide whether the issue is even real. 
  8. Set up multi-factor authentication: MFA puts an extra layer of security on your sign-in process by adding a verification code after the password. In order to access your account, scammers would have to intercept this additional verification code or have access to your verification app.
  9. Stop the exposure of your personal information: Data brokers and people-search sites like MyLife, TruthFinder, and Whitepages collect your private data from public records, social media, and other sources, and publish your profiles packed with sensitive details for anyone to see. This is an invaluable tool for scammers seeking to learn how to gain your trust or impersonate you. In order to protect your personal information and identity, you need to remove profiles from all people-search sites out there.
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What to do if you’ve been scammed with a Steam card

While the Steam platform limits scamming potential by not allowing people to transfer money between accounts, you can still be scammed through other means like gift cards. If you’re a victim of any of these scams, you have several options.

If you haven’t given the gift card to the attacker, see if you can get a refund. Some retailers will refund gift cards, but there might be limits based on the retailer’s terms and conditions.

If you’ve already given the card to the scammer, contact Steam support to see if they can recoup your funds. If the gift card hasn’t been redeemed yet, Steam might be able to freeze the funds and return them to you.

It’s also a good idea to inform your local police department. This will help the authorities share this scam with others and raise awareness. 

Additionally, report the issue to the FTC’s “report fraud” website. Each report provides the Federal Trade Commission with data they can use to prevent future fraud.

Where to buy Steam cards safely

You can buy Steam Cards safely via the Steam platform and at a trusted retailer. Some retailers include Best Buy, Dollar General, GameStop, and Target. A full list of trusted retailers can be found here.

FAQ

Why would a scammer want a Steam card?

A stolen Steam card can be used by scammers to make purchases on the platform. Alternatively, they can sell your gift cards at a higher value or use them as a part of another fraud scheme.

Are Steam cards safe to use?

Steam gift cards are completely safe to use. The only thing that would make them unsafe is buying them from an untrustworthy source or providing activation codes to people you don't know.

How can I tell if a Steam card is fake?

You can tell physical cards are fake based on whether there's any damage to the silver strip covering the Steam gift card codes and whether some design elements look odd. With digital cards, the only way to tell is to redeem them.

Can I get a refund for a Steam card?

You can request a refund via the Steam Wallet within 14 days of the purchase. However, you'll need to ask the customer service team if they offer refunds for physical gift cards.

Can Steam cards be redeemed outside of Steam?

You can only redeem Steam wallet gift cards on Steam.

Mark Kapczynski Mark Kapczynski SVP, Strategic Partnerships at Onerep

Mark is a Privacy Expert at Onerep. He comes from a strong background in the Identity Theft Protection and Consumer Credit world, having spent numerous years at Experian, including working on FreeCreditReport and ProtectMyID.

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