COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–As the holiday shopping season begins, fraud experts with AARP urge consumers to remember that gift cards are for gifts, not criminals.

“It seems like with the holiday season the scammers are coming out with variations of the same thing,” said Veronica Carter, a trained volunteer with AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.

Carter and her fellow volunteer of five years, Phillip Smith said holiday shoppers can be a prime target for gift card scams.

“Holiday shopping is very, very important, that is where we’re getting scammed the most I’d say,” said Smith.

A recent AARP survey revealed nearly 1 in 3 adults said they or others they know have been asked to purchase a gift card to pay a bill, fee, debt, or to claim a prize.

“Any time you are at a website and they’re asking you to pay for something by gift card, wire transfer, or cash, it’s a scam, stay away from those,” said Carter.

These two experts warn that scammers can sound legitimate and often refer to gift card payments as “Electronic Transfers.”

“They are good at tugging at your emotional strings,” said Smith.

Consumers need to be on alert that con artists will try to contact you over the phone, through a text, or in an email.

“They could be contacted by an organization that appears to be the social security administration, the tax, IRS, etc. and they’re asking for payments, demanding payments in gift cards,” said Carter.

However, AARP reminds all its members that these official organizations will never ask for payment via gift cards, and raising awareness for this scam is key.

“We use the statistic that people who attend one of our seminars or the Ohio Attorney General’s seminar, or any seminar on fraud prevention is 80 percent less likely to fall victim to fraud,” said Smith.

Smith suggests when you are holiday shopping you should buy all gift cards at a reputable business and double-check the back of the card to see if the code number has been tampered with or previously exposed.

“Because a scammer can look at that back number, leave the card on a rack, you go home and you start using it, but he knows the number, so he can access those funds,” he added.

AARP said people do not have to be a member of the organization to sign up for its fraud alert notifications in a particular zip code.

“We have a lot of trained volunteers to help you,” said Carter.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is hosting a virtual town hall about all holiday scams with the Federal Trade Commission Wednesday, Nov. 17. You do not have to be a member to attend the free seminar. To register, visit: www.vekeo.com/aarpohio

For more information about AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, click here.