Sheriff's Corner

One of the most popular presents that were given during this past holiday season was that of the Gift Card.  They are quick and simple to purchase and are worry free.  The giver never has to worry about selecting the right size or color and the recipient can use it when they are ready and purchase what they want.  With the rise in popularity, ease and convenience of these gift cards comes the opportunity for thieves and scam artists to try to commit fraud against the gift cards that you purchase and leaves you with a worthless piece of plastic instead of something of value that you look forward to spending.

Just like any other scam, thieves and scam artists have several variations of the scam to make it easier to get their hands on your property.  With gift cards they may have been tampered with even before you purchase them to give as a gift.  The following are a few gift card scams that have become prevalent recently and some tips on how to make a safe gift card purchase.

A gift card scam that seems most popular among thieves is when only a few gift cards are available.  The scam works when a thief takes the gift cards from the display rack, records the card numbers, and then put the cards back in the gift card display.  When a customer buys one of the compromised gift cards, the thief, who is constantly checking the number through the card’s website, sees that it has been purchased and quickly spends the value of the card online using the recorded number.  Criminals that are more sophisticated may read the magnetic stripes on the lifted cards and make physical replicas so the imposter cards can be used in stores.  Since impatient thieves will put the gift cards they swiped back on the front of the rack, select gift cards that are less accessible.  At a grocery store gift card kiosk, for example, you might select a card hanging in the middle position on one of the pegs rather than those that are hanging in the first position.  In other words, don’t be lured by the most obvious gift card on the rack.

Some gift cards are enclosed in protective packaging to protect the integrity of the card number and any PIN number that is associated with it.  Thieves will meticulously peel back the protective packaging and again access the card number with the intent to defraud the lawful recipient of the card. As a consumer, look for gift card packaging that seems damaged and select a different card.

To try to prevent from becoming the victim of a gift card scam, follow a few of the following tips to ensure that you or the person who you purchased a gift card for is able to enjoy them to their fullest extent.

Save the receipt. Most merchants provide customer service to resolve problems found with the balance or usability of a gift card purchased from one of their stores or restaurants.  Since you might not know there is a problem until the gift card is given to someone else, save your receipt until you know the gift card has been used–or better yet, give it to the recipient along with the gift card.  If the card you purchased is vulnerable for any reason, having the activation receipt may help you get a replacement card.

Use the gift card quickly.  The longer you hold onto a gift card, the higher the probability that it could be lost or stolen.  Don’t let that happen.  Use the gift card as soon as possible. 

Register your gift card.  If possible, register the gift card on the issuing company’s website.  In doing so, you’ll be able to check the balance of the card to make sure the loaded value is what you expect and both you and the company will have a record of the card being in your possession.  If you can’t find the card later, you should be able to look for it on the company’s website.

Store your card number on your cell phone.  If your card is lost or stolen, you will not be able to get a replacement if don’t know the number on the gift card. Add your cards to a mobile wallet so you can access them at any time (use before you lose) and have a record of the card information (number, PIN, etc.) should the balance drop unexpectedly.

If you have any questions about gift card scams or you find that you have been a victim of this new trend in scams please feel free to call us here at the Sheriff’s Office.