If there ever was a universal gift that fits everyone and everything, it’s a gift card! Gift card sales are projected to reach nearly $25 billion this holiday season, and any time that much money is in play you can be sure there are scammers scheming to steal it. Below are a few of the more prevalent scams going around and tips on how you can ensure your gift goes to the person intended and not the crooks.
1. Scammers visit a store’s gift card rack and copy some of the card numbers from the display. A few days later, they call the card’s service center to see if the card has been activated and the balance. Once they have gotten this information, they simply go online and start shopping with your funds! Consider purchasing your card from a customer service desk where gift cards are not generally handled by the public. Another way to thwart this scam is to pick a card from the rear of the rack since scammers are notoriously impatient and replace the copied card at the front of the rack.
2. Several card companies have tried to fortify the security of their cards. Many cards now have a security code on the back covered by a scratch-off strip. The code must be verified by the user before a purchase can be made. Unfortunately, crooks take the cards off the rack, copy the gift cards number, then scratch the strip on the back to reveal the security code. Then, using scratch-off strips readily available online, covers over the code and replaces the card on the rack. Just as in the first scam we talked about, the hacker simply waits to see if money has been loaded onto the card.
3. Another scam was reported in Blue Ash, Ohio, a suburb just north of Cincinnati. Local grocery stores that activate cards at the register started receiving complaints that cards they had activated had no balances when buyers attempted to use them. It seems a scammer, who had placed fake barcode stickers over the legitimate barcodes, had the money loaded directly to another card. None of the buyers noticed the fake barcodes, so be sure to examine your gift cards closely before purchasing.
If you’ve chosen to give gift cards this year, consider taking these steps to make sure the right person gets the money:
1. If you can, change the security code and/or PIN immediately after purchase. Let the recipient know what the new PIN is and inform them they should use the card ASAP.
2. Avoid purchasing cards with easily accessible numbers and PINs from in-store racks. Look for gift cards in well-sealed, tamper-resistant packaging. Always inspect the package for tampering.
3. Consider buying gift cards directly from the retailer online. Crooks don’t have easy access to those cards.
4. If you purchase a card in the store, ask the cashier to scan it in front of you. This assures your card is valid, and the balance reflects what you just loaded.
5. Be sure to keep your receipt to prove your gift card purchase. Retailers often track if, when and where the card has been used and will sometimes replace it if it is stolen.
6. Don’t be tempted to buy gift cards from online auction sites. It may seem as if you’re going to purchase a card at a huge discount, but many of these cards are stolen, counterfeit or used.
If you think gift cards are the perfect gift, taking the precautions listed above could help avoid an experience that could dampen an otherwise happy holiday season.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.