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Buying gift cards? Watch out for this scam

There’s a great chance at least one person on your Christmas list is difficult to shop for. They either seem to have everything they need or simply don’t like your taste in gifts.

This can be extremely frustrating, especially now when we’re so close to Christmas. Time is running out, so what can you do to make them happy? Tap or click here to find out which Christmas gifts are trending.

If you can’t find anything on that list, or time is about to be up, one great option is to buy them a gift card. That way they can pick out whatever they want that will make them happy. But be careful, there is a devious gift card scam going around that could ruin the holidays for everyone.

Signs of a scammed gift card

You can buy gift cards most everywhere these days. Places like Walmart, gas stations and grocery stores have them displayed out in the open so they’re easy to find and purchase.

Unfortunately, there have been many reports recently of customers who purchased a gift card from locations like this being scammed. What’s happening is they buy the card and not long after, they discover the entire balance has already been drained.

There are a couple of reasons this is happening. One is hackers. They get into the system that hosts gift card numbers and do a scan until they find a number that is active. Once the card is activated and has a balance added, the hacker uses it to buy stuff and drains all the money. Just like that, your gift card is worthless.

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The other method is much more basic.

A thief goes into a store, takes a gift card off the display and steals the number of the card. Then, they scratch off the verification code on the back before returning it to the display. Once you buy the card and activate it, the scammer has everything they need to use it themselves.

If you’re wondering how the thief knows when the card is activated, the answer is simple. There is a phone number on gift cards you can call to find out what the balance is. The thieves constantly call these numbers to find out when the card has a balance. Once money is added they act.

There are a few simple steps you can take to prevent being scammed. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pay close attention to the card – Before you purchase a gift card make sure to inspect it and look for signs for tampering. If the security code on the back has been scratched off, take it to customer service and turn it in to help others from being scammed.
  • Don’t select the first gift card on the display – Instead, take a card from the middle of the rack. Cards in the front of the display have more of a chance of being messed with.
  • Use gift cards ASAP – If you receive a gift card, don’t hold onto it for a long time. Use it as soon as you can so hackers don’t have time to get to it before you use it.

Reporting gift card scams

If you run into the unfortunate case of a scam like this, the first thing you need to do is immediately report it to the retail location you purchased the gift card. Then, let your bank know what happened.

Related: Wait until after Christmas to buy thee 8 things

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also recommends reporting gift card scams to the company the gift card was for. Here is a list of companies and how to contact them.

Gift cards are great gift options as long as they haven’t been drained by scammers. If you receive or give a gift card, make sure to use it ASAP because the longer it’s in your possession the greater the chance a hacker steals its balance. Don’t let crooks ruin your holiday fun. Have a merry Christmas!

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