With the holidays quickly approaching, gift card sales are increasing and unfortunately, so are gift card scams. If you're thinking of purchasing gift cards this holiday season, here are some helpful tips to avoid common gift card scams.
Payment Via Gift Card
You can quickly detect a scam if you are asked to make a payment via gift card or to go purchase gift cards and send them to either a person or a business. These requests are usually made via email, the web or via social media.
If anyone demands that you go get Target, Wal-Mart or other gift cards to pay a debt, bill or fee for service, or to help a friend or relative in trouble, it's probably fraud.
Online Auction or Resale Websites
Fraudsters also lurk on resale or auction websites, offering goods at an attractive discount. Once they get you interested in buying, they’ll ask you to pay with a gift card. As soon as they get the card number and PIN, they vanish, and so does the money on the card.
Another common scam is fake give-a-ways. You receive a text or email from a familiar organization or store, saying you won a gift card. Then to get the card, you have to go to website and give away your contact information or a take s short survey. During this process, the scammers are installing malware on our computer, giving them access to data they can use for identity theft.
Fraud on Cards You Purchased in a Store
Thieves go to stores and scratch off the film strip on the backs of gift cards to get the personal identification numbers (PINs), which they cover back up with easy-to-obtain replacement stickers.
The scammer enters the card numbers and PINs into a computer program that repeatedly checks the store's website and notifies them when someone buys and loads a compromised card. The thief can then spend or transfer the money on the card, or cash it in, before the buyer or gift recipient has a chance to use it.
When purchasing a gift card in a store, take a look to see if the packaging has been tampered with, or if the PIN is showing.
Tips to Protect Yourself from Gift Card Scams
- Immediately delete any emails or texts from people or businesses you don't know offering you a gift card.
- Purchase gift cards from stores that keep the cards behind the counter or close to the check outs, where it's harder for the cards to be tampered with.
- Examine gift cards carefully before purchasing them
- Register your card. It's much easier to track the card and get help.
- Don’t buy the top gift card right off the rack. That’s where impatient scammers usually put doctored cards, according to the Better Business Bureau
- Don’t 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.
- Don’t give gift-card information to callers claiming to be from government agencies, utilities or tech companies. Only scammers ask you to pay fees, back taxes or bills for services with gift cards.
Remember, if a deal or offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you encounter a gift card scam, you can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (877) 382-4357 and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (855) 411-2372.
Want more information on protecting your financial information from fraud? Listen to episodes 21, 22, and 41 of our Good Money Moves podcast where we talk more about recognizing and preventing fraud.