SAN DIEGO — Scammers are taking advantage of a common struggle for people across California: high gas prices, and the desire to avoid them in any way possible.

That’s left drivers susceptible to a ploy on social media and via email, where people believe they’ve won a $500 gas station gift card, according to the Better Business Bureau of the Pacific Southwest. The bureau warned residents Thursday to avoid the gas card hustle.

“Currently, the scam claims to be from Shell, but watch out for scammers using different gas station brands too,” the bureau wrote in a news release.

Typically, scammers reach out to a person online and tell them they won a gift card and only need to pay a small fee, like $2 for shipping the gas card. That’s what happened to one driver who reported the incident to the bureau’s Scam Tracker.

“They said I won a Shell gas card and had to pay $1.95 for shipping. A day later, they took $89.95 out of my account,” the person said, in a quote provided by the bureau. “I called about the charge, and they fixed it, but the next day, another $89.95 was taken out again.”

In addition to credit card information, the scammers may request further personal details.

“Some consumers say they were asked to fill out a form and provide their name, phone number, physical address, credit card information, and other details,” the bureau said. “Sharing these details with scammers can open you up to identity theft.”

The Better Business Bureau said prize scams of many varieties are common, and that they sometimes take the form of an online “survey” that promises a reward for participating.

Experts shared the following tips, especially for older family members and those who live alone:

  • Never pay to win: “No legitimate company will ask you to pay money to receive something you’ve won or to get a free gift. If someone asks you to pay a small fee to receive a prize, you’re probably dealing with a scammer.”
     
  • Do your research. “Impostor scams are common, so if a large company seems to be offering you a free gift, do some research first. Visit the company’s official website to see if they really are participating in some kind of giveaway.”
     
  • Don’t act on impulse. “Scammers are hoping you’ll get so excited about their offer that you won’t stop thinking about any suspicious details. Use your good judgment and question any offer that seems too good to be true.”