Irish scammers tricking elderly into buying iTunes gift cards

Age Action says ‘cunning and ruthless’ criminals targeting vulnerable people

Vulnerable older people are being targeted by a scam that tricks them into purchasing iTunes gift cards in order to pay fabricated bills or fix nonexistent problems with accounts.

Irish scammers, adopting a relatively unsophisticated con previously operated in other countries, convince their targets they owe money but can settle the debt by way of purchasing the Apple vouchers.

The gift card serial codes are then given to the fraudster over the phone and used to buy expensive products or sold on to others.

In a case highlighted by gardaí to members of the National Retail Forum, one such scam was thwarted by staff at a Dublin store.


“An elderly lady presented herself at the customer service desk seeking to purchase a large amount of iTunes gift cards,” the Garda circular explained.

“Security staff in the store deduced that the lady was carrying out instructions from an unknown caller purporting to be from her bank. This person was issuing instructions to the lady and led her to believe that her bank account was compromised and that they needed iTune gift card serial numbers to rectify the matter.”

A staff member began to question the person on the phone but he or she quickly hung up.

“To assist us with preventing this type of fraud being committed on vulnerable victims, I respectfully request that you advise staff to be alert to this development,” the circular said.

Age Action said the scam was illustrative of how “cunning and ruthless” criminals can be.

"It's important to get the word out to everyone, particularly people who might be vulnerable to financial scams, and make sure they know about this ploy," said its head of advocacy Justin Moran.

“We would urge anyone who receives a suspicious call from someone claiming to be their bank or financial provider to ask them to leave their details and then contact your provider yourself to confirm their identity. If you have been the victim of fraud it is important that you contact the gardaí to help catch these criminals.”

The seriousness of the threat has been acknowledged by Apple in a posting on its support website.

“A string of scams are taking place asking people to make payments over the phone for things such as taxes, hospital bills, bail money, debt collection, and utility bills,” it said.

The formula of the con, it said, involved a victim receiving a call “instilling panic and urgency to make a payment” by purchasing the gift cards from the nearest retailer that sells them.

After the cards have been purchased, the victim is asked to give the caller the 16-digit code on the back of the card over the phone.

It warns that once these codes are given over they are likely to be used before the incident can be reported. Apple has urged those with gift cards not to share their codes with strangers.

The fraud prompted warnings from the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs last December saying they were aware of about 1,500 such reports. Most victims were said to be over 65 and losing £1,150 (€1,315) each on average.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times