Gift card scam threats come in many forms this year and could be costly

Consumers warnings include gift card purchases both online and in the stores
Posted at 5:00 AM, Dec 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-21 07:59:21-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — We know many consumers looking for last minute holiday gifts will be reaching for gift cards. Unfortunately, scammers are banking on that. News5 is learning about some things to watch for to make sure that gift card money makes it into the right hands.

Since 2020, consumers nationwide have reportedly lost $690 million to gift card scams and this year the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker says complaints are up 50%.

It turns out this year when we buy gift cards we face threats from scammers both in the store and online.

”There's all kinds of weird things that we're seeing utilizing these gift cards. So we know it's easy, but at the same time, you’ve got to be just really, really careful when buying them online, but also buying them physically in the stores,” warned BBB of Southern Colorado CEO and Executive Director Jonathan Liebert.

He says he’s expecting consumers to be at risk for gift card scams during the last minute shopping rush before Christmas. He’s very concerned about people falling for phony sales online.

“So if you get a great deal on gift cards online where you buy a certain amount, you get free money online. You might be buying nothing,” warned Liebert.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser shared similar concerns in a message sent out through his social media channels.

”Too often on social media and in emails you're going to get a great deal. “Buy this gift card”. Please don't do it,” Weiser said.

But it’s not just online. Police investigators shared on social media, they have uncovered a scam where criminals are shoplifting the gift cards, altering them, and then putting them back on the shelves for an unsuspecting person to purchase.

”They cut off the top that has the code that gives you access to the money for the person you give the card to. Then, they take the bottom half of the card (that means nothing now), put it back in the envelope and glue it shut and just like that you have a brand new gift card that you think you’re getting for your person for Christmas,” Sergeant Barry Duggan of the Pinole Police Department in California said in a video shared on social media.

Meanwhile, the crooks behind this scheme drain the money as soon as you buy the card.

”So they'll get an alert that's sent to them and let them know that this card has been activated and there's money on there that then they can use and then drain,” said Liebert.

Police investigators say the best thing to do is make sure the card is there in its entirety and that it hasn’t been tampered with before putting any money on it.

”As you are purchasing them, remove them from these folders and actually take the card and make sure the whole card is there,” Duggan said.

Two other things to watch for…

Be careful checking the balance of gift cards online. Many fraudsters say they’ll tell you your balance, but once you enter your card information they’ll drain it.

Also, please never use a gift card to pay someone. Gift cards should be gifts. Many scammers want payments in gift cards so they can drain your money and move on. No legitimate company will use that method for payment.


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