How to avoid a gift card scam that could ruin your holidays

Gift cards for many stores and services

Chances are you’re buying at least one gift card this time of year.

But you need to be especially vigilant this holiday season, because scammers are increasingly using gift cards as a way to steal your money.

Beverly Hacker says someone hacked her Apple gift card she recently purchased.

She says the $50 card was empty.

“When we got home, one had been tampered with,” she said, showing a card that she claims had been opened and resealed.

When she called the grocery store where she bought it, she says, “they said they are not responsible for any issues with the cards.”

It’s happening more and more.

The Better Business Bureau’s Josh Planos says the first thing you want to look for when buying a gift card is any signs of tampering.

“A very easy tactic that scammers have deployed is going into the local grocery store, and stealing all the information off the card because they don’t need the actual card anymore,” he says.

Planos says scammers often copy the card number and PIN, then carefully place the card back in the rack, often behind other cards.

Once activated, they can make purchases online before you’ve had the chance to gift it.

How to protect yourself:

So what can you do? The BBB suggests you check carefully for:

  • Any tears in the packaging
  • Any scratches on the card that might indicate something on the card might not be right
  • Signs that a sticker was placed over the original barcode

If you have any suspicions, talk to a store employee.
Meantime, Planos says the problem is so widespread that you should also be cautious of re-sell sites advertising gift cards at steep discounts.

Instead, he says, to buy directly from the store.

“If you could go directly to the source, that’s always gonna be the best approach,” he said.

He also advises you to be wary of websites that offer to check your gift card’s balance. That could be an attempt to steal money off of your card.

The BBB’s other tips to protect your gift cards are:

  • Don’t delay using a card, because the longer a card sits around, the more likely a cyber-criminal can steal the balance
  • Register your card if given the option
  • Find out if a gift card has any strings attached

“Some of them have restrictions,” Planos said. “Some of them have a certain timeline you need to be made aware of.”

Celina Wilson, who we found buying a stack of gift cards for her family, says she checks her cards for tampering before she buys.

“I just make sure it’s not scratched off on the back,” she said.

That way your loved ones can enjoy their gifts, so you don’t waste your money.

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John Matarese

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