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Tips to avoid holiday gift card scams

Thieves are known to remove gift cards from the display rack and record the numbers associated with that card, including the activation PIN.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping is on the rise this year. With the holiday season in full swing, the Better Business Bureau is reminding shoppers to be on the lookout for gift card scams – online and at the store.

According to The National Retail Federation, Americans will spend about 27-billion on gift cards this holiday season. On average, shoppers will buy three gift cards and put about 50-dollars on each card.

Some of the top gift cards will come from restaurants, department stores, coffee shops, Visa, American Express, and other spending cards. If you choose to buy a gift card in-person at the store, the Better Business Bureau says, you should examine the card closely.

"Criminals have gotten really good at being able to shift the packaging around, record the number, and scrape off the silver for the security code,” said Lechelle Yates, Director of Communications with the BBB of Central and Northwest NC. “When you pick up the gift card, really look at it to see if the packaging is wrinkled or torn. But, be especially sure to look at the PIN. If the silver is scrapped off, that's a really good indication that a criminal has gotten to the card before you."

If anything looks suspicious, you should buy a different gift card and turn in the compromised card to the store's customer service desk.

If you choose to buy a gift card online, make sure you avoid phony websites. Some websites advertise special discounts and offers to steal payment card numbers or other personal information. Instead, the BBB recommends going directly to the merchant and purchasing the card from them. 

Here are some other tips:

  • Know who you are buying from. Little-known websites advertise gift cards for popular retailers at steep discounts. These websites might be using these offers to steal payment card numbers or other personal information. Instead, go directly to the merchant and purchase a card from them.
  • Buying a physical gift card? Take a closer look. No matter where gift cards are displayed in the store, thieves are known to remove gift cards from the display rack and record the numbers associated with that card, including the activation PIN. Before purchasing a gift card, look carefully at the packaging for any tears, wrinkles, or other indications of tampering, and see if the PIN is exposed. If anything looks suspicious, it’s probably best to take a different card and turn in the compromised card to the store’s Customer Service Desk.
  • Research how to use the card. Not all retailers have the same policies when issuing a gift card. Double check the terms and conditions on the type of gift card purchased. The Federal Trade Commission has information about retail gift cards and bank gift cards. In Canada, find more information on the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada website.
  • Be wary of websites that offer to check your gift card's balance. According to BBB.org/ScamTracker reports, some websites that claim to check your gift card balance are really a way to steal money off your card. These sites ask for your card’s ID number and PIN or security code. Then, scammers use the information to drain the money off your card.
  • Register your gift card. If the retailer allows the option to register the gift card, take full advantage. This makes it easier to protect the balance, that way you can report it sooner and potentially end up saving the money that is stored on the card. Change the PIN on the card, and don’t delay in using the money. The longer a card sits around, the more likely a cybercriminal is to steal the balance.
  • Treat it like cash. If the card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers to report a lost or stolen card – find it on the card or online.