With supply chain snarls still plaguing parts of the U.S. economy, many consumers are turning to gift cards as the holiday present of choice this year. In fact, according to the website Research and Markets, the United States gift card industry is expected to reach $188 billion in 2022.
Why is gift card fraud such a problem?
Because of the small dollar amounts involved, gift card fraudsters face a low probability of prosecution. It’s also easy to convert gift card value to cash or merchandise. In other words, this kind of fraud is relatively risk-free and easy to pull off.
In one common scam, a crook goes to a retail establishment, grabs a handful of gift cards from an out-of-the-way stand or kiosk, and records the card numbers using a magnetic strip reader. After returning the cards, the crook heads home and repeatedly checks balances on the merchant’s website until the numbers are activated.
The thief then spends or transfers the money on the card before the legitimate buyer or gift recipient has a chance to use it. Less sophisticated scammers may simply scratch off the card’s coating and replace it with a sticker, hoping the buyer won’t notice.
You can scam-proof your gift card experience by following these tips:
- Don’t pick the front card. Crooks are impatient. They often return compromised cards to the most accessible place on the rack. Select your gift card from the middle of the rack.
- Buy gift cards online. Purchase cards online, directly from the business that issued them. This reduces the potential tampering risk.
- Inspect packaging. If you purchase gift cards in person at a store, examine the cards for signs of tampering. It’s safer to buy from stores that keep gift cards behind the counter or in well-sealed packaging.
- Register the card. If a card issuer lets you register on their website, do it. You’ll be able to check your balance regularly and identify any abuse.
- Don’t give out card information to callers claiming to be from government agencies, tech companies, utilities or other businesses. Only scammers ask you to pay fees, back taxes or bills for services with gift cards.
- Don’t buy gift cards from online auction sites. They could be counterfeit or stolen, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
If you think you’ve been scammed, contact the store directly and report incidents to local law enforcement.