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Scammers are using delivery apps like Instacart to swindle customers and delivery workers out of money

Alex Bitter   

Scammers are using delivery apps like Instacart to swindle customers and delivery workers out of money
  • A scam is leaving Instacart shoppers or customers on the hook for gift cards they never ordered.
  • The scammers ask Instacart shoppers to replace items with gift cards and then send the card's code.

Some Instacart shoppers are the targets of a scam centered on gift cards.

It works like this: A scammer acting as a legitimate customer will place an order with a few small items, like a beverage or a piece of fruit. After an Instacart shopper accepts the order, the customer messages the shopper and asks if they can add one or more gift cards — often worth $100 or more — to the order.

The customer will then ask the shopper to send them the card's code, which gives them access to the money before the shopper has even checked out and left the store.

That "customer" can then say they didn't order the gift card — which they've already spent the money from. That could theoretically mean Instacart or the delivery worker has to cover the cost of the card. The delivery worker is also left at risk of having their account deactivated by Instacart for violating company policy.

"I need a 150$ Vanilla gift card," one scammer told an Instacart shopper, according to a post on Reddit from last September, referencing a type of Visa prepaid card. "Its for my dads birthday but i couldn't go out." The request came with an offer for a $100 tip, according to the post.

"Got my first scam order today," the poster wrote, adding in the comments that they contacted support to intervene in the order once the gift card request came through.

The scam doesn't just affect the workers shopping for Instacart. It can also impact legitimate customers. One TikTok user, itsjwest, said in a video posted in August that someone hacked into his Instacart account to order a Slim Jim beef stick and a $100 Xbox gift card from a Walgreens store.

The two items showed up in a bag on his doorstep — but the driver had scratched off the code on the gift card and sent it to the hacker in exchange for a tip.

@itsjwest SCAM BEWARE INSTACART SPREAD THE WORD FIND THE GUY #instacart #scam #instacartscammers #SLIMJIM #XBOX #STORYTIME @Instacart ♬ original sound - Jared West

"He tells me that he was having a conversation with the guy, and he tells me that he was tipping him $58 to go ahead and scratch off the code and send to him before actually making the delivery," itsjwest says in the video. "How is that not a red flag to anybody?"

Heidi Bleau, an Instacart shopper in Massachusetts who works in marketing but shops through the app to make extra money for her son's college expenses, told Business Insider that she got a similar request after agreeing to shop and deliver an order from a Walgreens last fall.

"Within 30 seconds, I got a message about buying the Vanilla Visa gift card," she said. "I tried calling the customer directly, and I got a message that they prefer not to be contacted." Bleau said she just closed the app and didn't finish the order after she couldn't talk to Instacart support over the phone about the scam.

Her son, who also works for Instacart, has also had at least four similar requests over the past several months, she said. It's unclear whether the requests were from fraudulent customers or scammers who had hacked legitimate accounts.

One of the orders initially included a bottle of cologne, which the customer then requested be replaced with a $150 gift card. Instacart policy does allow shoppers to replace items as a "special request" for customers and override the system by adding a custom price for the item. The feature is designed to accommodate items for sale in a store but which don't show up for customers in Instacart's catalog.

Instacart forbids shoppers from adding gift cards to orders, a screenshot of the company policy seen by BI indicates.

"It's impacting consumers who have to deal with the fraudulent charges on their credit card, but even more, Instacart has to be seeing massive chargebacks, yet I don't see they are doing anything about this," the shopper told BI.

"Customers are not able to order gift cards through the Instacart platform or place a special request for a gift card via chat," an Instacart spokesperson told BI.

Instacart also tells shoppers not to purchase gift cards for customers, the spokesperson added.

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