Beware of gift cards that have been tampered with this holiday season

Scammers are well aware that almost $100 billion is spent annually on gift cards, and studies show that almost two-thirds of consumers prefer to receive gift cards. Add all this up and it equals just one thing: major opportunity for theft for criminals this holiday season.

Scams involving gift cards is alarmingly easy. Gift cards have identifying numbers on their magnetic strips, just like credit cards. Thieves go to retailers that have gift card displays and take a picture of the card itself or skim the card to get the data.

Gift cards can be tracked at an associated website or telephone number, so you can find out the remaining card balance. Scammers continually track that number, waiting for it to be activated. Once it has been activated, they clone the card and use its full balance at a retailer.

How do you protect yourself from being scammed? First of all, take a good look at rack displays of gift cards. They’re shaky and out where anyone can get to them. If you are purchasing a gift card for a loved one, don’t purchase them at one of these open displays. Instead, buy them only where they are sold from behind a counter, to increase your chances of getting a card that hasn’t been tampered with.

When you attempt to purchase a card, inspect it carefully. If the packaging has been removed, or the numbers have been exposed, or if the activation sticker looks like it has been removed and put back on, don’t buy the card.

And don’t buy cards from auction sites. There are far too many risks associated with these cards, and you won’t know what you’re getting until it’s too late.

Last of all, if you receive a gift card, cash it in as soon as possible. Don’t give a thief a chance to spend your gift money before you get a chance to.

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