Beware of These Gift Card Scams for the Holidays

The holiday season may be marked by good cheer and glad tidings but it’s also the season for scams, especially those related to gift cards.

While online gift cards aren’t such a big target for thieves, those bought inside stores continue to be vulnerable to scammers. In this article, we’re going to talk about how you can protect yourself.

Beware These Holiday Gift Card Scams

Things are so bad, money expert Clark Howard says, many American consumers no longer wish to receive gift cards due to the increasing amount of fraud.

Clark highlights a piece from Los Angeles Times writer David Lazarus, who reveals the latest schemes crooks have cooked up to steal money from gift cards.

"One of the most common rackets is for would-be thieves in stores to peel back the stickers covering gift card PINs. They also write down the card number. Then they go online after the card has been activated and try to make a purchase with whatever balance remains," Lazarus writes.

Scammers also use computer programs that try “every possible combination of card number and PIN on a retailer’s website,” he says.

Once they get a match, they swipe the money on the card or sell it on the web.

What makes this scam particularly dangerous is that the crime doesn’t have to be done inside stores. “They can do it right from the comfort of their own cave,” Clark says.

And if you’ve ever been a victim of a gift card scam, you know that it can be quite difficult — if not impossible — to get your money back from the retailer, which makes things even worse.

4 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Gift Card Scams

That’s why Clark urges extreme caution when buying gift cards for yourself or to give as gifts. Here are four ways to stay safe if you choose to do it:

1. Inspect Your Card Before You Buy

Always inspect your gift card to make sure the package hasn’t been opened, the sticker hasn’t been peeled off or the strip hasn’t been scratched off. Look for any evidence the card has been tampered with. If it looks like it has, do not buy that card. Take it to the cashier or store manager.

2. Ask for a Card Customers Can’t Access

To be even safer, request a gift card that is secured behind glass or the cashier’s station. These are less likely to have been tampered with.

3. Never Give or Accept Gift Cards As Payment

Here's what the Federal Trade Commission says on its website: "Gift cards are for gifts, NOT for payments. Anyone who tells you to pay with a gift card is a scammer."

Report gift card scams to the FTC at

4. Don’t Open Suspicious Ecards

Although they’re less prevalent, online gift card scams are still something to be on guard against: Don’t open email attachments from senders you don’t know.

The Department of Homeland Security recently posted this: "Cyber actors may send emails and ecards containing malicious links or attachments infected with malware."

Clark’s Final Word

Clark says gift cards present both hazard and opportunity, but the key is to be careful and do your due diligence.

"The one [gift card opportunity] that may be worth doing is where you get bonus money in return for getting a gift card, but know that the risk has increased and retailers have failed to provide adequate security to protect the purchasers of these cards."

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