Holiday season

Consumer warning: scammers after your gift cards this holiday season

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — More than 73% of adults purchased at least one gift card during the holiday season this year. Maps offer options for everyone. But if you’re not careful, your card could be worthless.

Whether you pick up a gift card at a store or buy one online, you need to beware of fraud.

Schemers can use skimmers to read the card’s magnetic stripe. Then they wait for you to come and add value to the card. When you do, the scammer spends the money before you – or your gift recipient – can.

Brian Oglesby of the Better Business Bureau advises you to avoid choosing the first gift card you see in the store.

The BBB also offers these tips:

Know who you are buying from

Little-known websites advertise gift cards for popular retailers at steep discounts. These websites could use the offers to steal payment card numbers or other personal information.

Instead, go directly to the merchant and buy a card from them.

Take a closer look when busing a physical gift card

No matter where gift cards are displayed in the store, thieves have been known to remove them from the display and record the numbers associated with that card, including the activation PIN.

Before purchasing a gift card, carefully examine the packaging for tears, creases, or other indications of tampering, and check to see if the PIN code is exposed. If anything looks suspicious, it’s probably best to take another card and give the compromised card to the store’s customer service department.

Find out how to use the card

Not all retailers have the same policies when issuing a gift card. Check the terms and conditions of the type of gift card purchased.

The Federal Trade Commission has information on retail gift cards and bank gift cards. In Canada, find more information on the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada website.

Beware of websites offering to check card balance

According to reports from, some websites that claim to check your gift card balance are actually a way to steal money from your card. These sites ask for your card’s ID number and PIN or security code. The schemers then use the information to drain the money from your card.

Register your gift card

If the merchant allows the gift card save option, take full advantage of it. This makes it easier to protect the balance, this way you can report it sooner and possibly end up saving the money that is stored on the card.

Change the card PIN and don’t delay using the money. The longer a card remains, the more likely a cybercriminal is to steal the balance.

Treat it like cash

If the card is lost or stolen, report it immediately to the issuer. Most issuers have toll-free numbers to report a lost or stolen card – find it on the card or online.

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