Gift cards have become one of Americans’ favorite ways to mark birthdays and holidays. They make a great gift. Everyone loves them, from teenagers to senior citizens. But, their popularity also attracts scammers, and honest people can lose money.
Gift Cards: Popularity Attracts Scammers, Fraud
A 2018 Deloitte survey found that gift cards and gift certificates are on 54 percent of U.S. consumers’ holiday shopping lists. This makes them the most popular type of present. But, unfortunately, this popularity also attracts scammers. The scammers love gift cards, because it gives them easy and untraceable ways to steal your money.
According to the FBI, scammers have many tricks to separate you from your money.
One method they use is to go to stores and quietly —unnoticed, scratch off the film strip on the backs of gift cards to get the PIN numbers. They then cover them back up with their own replacement stickers.
Next, they enter these card numbers into a computer program that constantly checks the retailer’s website. When someone buys a compromised card, the scammer is notified and can spend or transfer the money on the card. It’s done even before the buyer or gift recipient has a chance to use it.
Another scheme the scammers use is posting goods on resale or auction websites. Prices reflect a very good discount. They will ask you to pay with a gift card.
And, as soon as they get the card number and PIN, they and your money disappear. In many cases, these crooks will pose as tech support companies.
Another trick they use is the fake giveaway. You get an email or text message, supposedly from a familiar store or organization saying you’ve won a gift card. To claim it, you just need to provide your contact information, click through to a website or answer a few survey questions.
The crooks then install malware on your computer, use your data for identity theft or sell it to marketers. You are left with spam emails.
Take these precautions and avoid gift-card cons.
Gift Cards: Warning Signs
- The packaging on a gift card in a store appears to have been tampered with, or the PIN is exposed.
- A person selling an item online wants to be paid via gift cards from a different retailer.
- Delete any unsolicited email or text message offering you a gift card, without responding.
- Only buy gift cards at stores that keep them behind the counter or close to checkout aisles, where they’re harder to tamper with.
- Examine a card carefully for signs of tampering before you buy it.
- Register your card, if the retailer offers that option. That makes it easier to track and quickly report any misuse, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
- Buy cards directly from the businesses where they can be used.
Take these precautions as well:
- Don’t buy the top gift card right off the rack. That’s where impatient scammers usually put doctored cards, the BBB says.
- Never give personal information to anyone in exchange for a gift card.
- If you’re selling a gift card through an online resale market, don’t provide the buyer with the PIN until the transaction is complete.
- Do not give gift-card information to callers claiming to be from government agencies or tech companies. Only scammers ask you to pay fees, back taxes or bills for services with gift cards.
- If you are a victim of a gift-card scam, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- You can also file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (online or at 877-382-4357) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (online or at 855-411-2372).
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