Look Out for Gift Card Scams

gift card scam

The holiday season is upon us, and gift cards are ripe for giving and receiving – and stealing.

Gift cards have been the present Americans want most for 13 consecutive years, according to the National Retail Federation. And 59% of consumers polled by the trade group say that’s what they want this holiday season as well.

But that popularity may be what makes gift cards such a prime target for thieves.

“The holiday period is a busier time for gift card scams simply because so many more people are considering buying gift cards for their friends,” says Randy Pargman, senior director of threat hunting and counterintelligence for Binary Defense, a computer and systems security and monitoring firm.

The gift card industry takes steps to minimize fraud, says Erin Wood, board chairwoman for the Retail Gift Card Association.

“Gift cards are safe, secure and in-demand gift options,” Wood says. “Unfortunately, like all payments tools, criminals have found ways to abuse gift cards.”

Scams can range from a bogus sticker being stuck on a card, to PIN codes being compromised. Here are a few schemes to look out for, and tips to avoid them, as you tick off your shopping lists this holiday season.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Exposed PIN: There are scammers who visit stores and write down the number and PIN (or personal identification number) on the back of a card. After they see it’s been bought, they hop online and use up the balance. So it’s a good idea to check the card to see if the wrapping has been tampered with, or if the PIN code has been revealed. If it has, take it to an employee – and pick a different card. Guard your card: Make your cards hard for a scammer to snatch by tucking them into your wallet or purse. And if a card has a hidden PIN, don’t scratch and reveal it until you’re ready to use it, says Wood.

Similarly, she says, if the gift card is digital, stash it in an account or mobile wallet that requires a password and more than one way to access it.

Don’t lose it along the way: If you’re mailing a card, use a method that allows you to track the delivery. If it’s being sent online, use a means that’s password-protected.

Just in case the card does get stolen or compromised, hold onto the receipt or give it to the person you bought the card for, Wood says.

Not the right sticker: Some thieves will sift through a store rack and place a sticker over a card’s activation code. Then, when you place a certain amount of money on the card at the cash register, it will actually go to the scammer’s account and not yours, Pargman says. Again, check the card before you buy it.

Gift cards can’t be used to pay the light bill: Don’t be fooled by a random phone call or email requesting that you pay a bill or other alleged expense with a gift card. “That should immediately raise a red flag,” Pargman says. “It’s almost certainly a scam…. No one from the government or police will ever ask you for gift cards.”

Good site, bad card: There are legitimate sites that allow people to resell gift cards they don’t want. They are a handy way to get rid of a card you’ll never use and exchange it for one that allows you to purchase from a retailer that you prefer.

“The problem … is it’s very difficult to tell if the gift cards you buy from those sites at a discounted rate are legitimately sold or if they’ve been stolen by a scammer and are being sold for a profit,” Pargman says.

If a retailer doesn’t honor a stolen card or the original owner has already used up its value,  “the consumer who was innocent of any wrongdoing can be the one left holding the worthless gift card,” Pargman says.

You might lose more than a few dollars.

“The worst-case scenario (is) if I bought a discount card form the site and gave it to a friend as a Christmas present,” Pargman says. “Then they take it to the store and find out there’s no value on the card.  I’d seem like a pretty awful friend.’’

The Retail Gift Card Association recommends purchasing cards “from trusted sources and known brands, especially when buying online.”

This article is from USA Today and can be found here.