Many readers buy and use gift cards to make minimum spend or just to get some discount that is being offered. However, you need to be aware of scams and thieves out there who want to take advantage of your habits.
Thieves record the gift card information and then call the toll-free number in a few days to check the balance. Once they know it has been activated and the remaining balance they can use it themselves. Think how easy it would be for a clerk or someone behind you to take a cell phone photo and blow it up to read the numbers. Note that if thieves use the info to shop on-line, you don’t have the same protection against fraud that you would have with a credit card.
Another way if for thieves to use a small handheld scanner to read the serial number embedded in the card. After returning home, they can then use that data to reprogram a used card and steal the value. Lastly, clever thieves can carefully remove new, inactive cards from their packaging and replace them with used cards. They keep the numbers from the used card and when the shopper activates it, they have access to your money.
8 tips to protect yourself:
- Inspect the card you purchase carefully and pass if it shows any suspicious signs of tampering.
- If possible, ask for a card that is not on the rack, but behind the counter.
- Inspect and scratch-off areas to ensure they are intact.
- Do not give out your Social Security Number if the clerk asks for it (they never should).
- After activating your card, ask the clerk to scan it so you can verify the amount on the card.
- Keep your receipt as proof of purchase and the value you put on the card in case of theft.
- Buy on-line cards only from the issuer and not a third party.
- Never buy GCs from an online auction site as you have little protection that the card isn’t stolen, counterfeit, or has less value than promised.