Tis the season for gift cards – and gift card scams! A survey by the National Retail Federation estimates 2012 holiday gift card spending at over $28 billion, making gift cards the most popular holiday gift. Due to their popularity and improved technology, gift card scams are also increasing in popularity. Gift cards are not connected to any individual by name, which makes them a good target for thieves. Here is what you can do to avoid holiday gift card scams while still enjoying the convenience of giving or receiving gift cards:
Beware of Cashier Thieves
Gift cards are an easy item for cashiers to steal during the checkout process, particularly if you are buying several gift cards in one shopping trip. To minimize your risks of becoming a gift card victim during check out, consider buying your gift cards separately from the rest of your transactions to make it easier to see that you are only paying for the total amount you want to “load” on your gift cards.
Be wary of a cashier who asks you to grab another gift card because one of your gift cards isn’t ringing up properly: this could signal a cashier who intends to pocket the gift card you paid for and give you a gift card with no value on it. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, cashiers sometimes take advantage of people who aren’t paying close attention to their shopping, and succeed in taking gift cards paid for by customers and sending cards that have not been activated home with the customer. Imagine the disappointment and embarrassment when your intended gift card recipient attempts to use a gift card that has no monetary value?!
Reduce your risks of cashier gift card theft by remembering the following:
- Verify that the amount on your receipt matches the amount of money you spent to load the gift cards with value.
- Use credit cards to purchase gift cards if you can, as credit cards offer purchase protection you don’t have when you pay using cash.
- Use a gift card reader to check the balance of each credit card before you leave the store; or ask another cashier or someone at the customer service desk to scan and verify the gift cards have the right amount of money on them. It’s easier to correct mistakes or theft before you leave the store than it is to try and correct it after you leave.
Avoid Buying Stripped Gift Cards
Another potential gift card scam to be on the lookout for involves buying a pre-loaded card that no longer has value. In stores that sell gift cards already loaded with values, it is possible for a thief to slide a pre-loaded card out of the packaging and replace it with a used or no-value gift card. When you go to use the gift card, it will have no value. Check the packaging of any gift card you intend to buy carefully and do not buy any cards that appear to have been opened.
Thieves also use small, handheld scanners they can purchase online and scan gift card data. Once they have the information from the gift cards, they put the cards back on the rack and wait for customers to buy them. Thieves will call the customer service number found on the gift cards every few days to see if the cards they captured the data from have a balance – and if they have a balance, they can redeem the value online (without needing the card in-hand).
Don’t Buy Gift Cards Online
Many potential gift card scams originate through online sellers using eBay, Facebook, gift card exchange websites and other services to sell their fake or no-value gift cards. You want to purchase gift cards from the retailer themselves to decrease your risks of buying gift cards that have no value. If it seems too good to be true (“Get a $500 gift card for liking our Facebook page!”) then it is most certainly a gift card scam.