Beware gift card scams

Beware gift card scams


By Pam Atkinson

Gift cards have become a favorite gift. You don’t have to worry about color or size, and there is one for every taste.

However, gift cards have their drawbacks. The largest drawback for gift cards presently is that they are subject to elaborate scams. So, if you are thinking about purchasing gift cards this holiday season, watch out for these scams:

  • Stolen card number

Thieves remove gift cards from a display. They record the card number and put the card back on display. Scammers then wait until a customer buys the card and checks online for a dollar balance to appear. The card information is then used online, or sometimes a duplicate card is made to use in the store.

This scam works best when there are a small or controlled number of cards available, like at smaller merchants. In larger stores, the gift cards near the register or on end caps are the most likely targets because they will be purchased more quickly.

Watch for people who try to push a particular card for sale. In larger displays, compromised cards are most likely to be at the front of the group. Choose a card from the middle or back or from an area of the store that is less frequented. These are cards that would cause thieves to wait longer for their redemption.

  • Tampered packaging

Some manufacturers have been adding special packaging or scratch off pin numbers to prevent thieves from just being able to look at the cards and stealing the numbers.

Watch for packaging that looks like it may have been tampered with by checking with other cards in the rack. Checking the seams of the packaging for misaligned or re-glued packaging could prevent you from giving an empty gift card! Make sure the scratch-off covering on the pin number looks unaltered. If you find packaging that looks suspicious, give the cards to the cashiers and choose another one – preferably from the back of the display.

  • Switched at checkout

While most store employees are hard-working, honest individuals, some are not. This scam works when the store employee is in on it, too. You had your card to the checkout person for purchase and activation. The cashier then activates a different card and hands you back the inactivated card. (Sometimes they activate your card but hand you back an inactive one.) Either way, the store clerk is collecting activated cards loaded with money.

Watch out for clerks that seem distracted or that try to distract you. Keep your eye on the card and make sure it is handed back to you immediately after activation. Double check that the gift card number on the activation receipt is the same as the number on your card. If not, call for a manager.

  • Discount double-dip

Similar to the above, the double dip works because of the profitable resale market for gift cards either selling unwanted cards or purchasing cards at less than face value. Many online re-sellers accept the codes from the back of the cards to shorten the time between buying and selling the cards and shipping the cards to the purchaser. Scammers sell their codes and then quickly use the actual gift card leaving a worthless code for the next purchaser. Sometimes the re-seller will discover the deception, but often it is the unlucky buyer.

Watch for re-sellers that provide a guarantee rather than purchasing from an unknown individual. You may be able to get a bigger discount from the classified seller; you are taking a much more significant risk.

Tips for gift card buying

  1. Grab a gift card from the middle or back of the display, not the top.
  2. Inspect the gift card packaging before purchasing.
  3. Check the activation receipt for matching numbers and amounts.
  4. Check the balance in private.
  5. Only buy and sell gift cards from reputable sellers/re-sellers that offer guarantees.

Have a happy and safe holiday buying season!

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