By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Gift cards are convenient to give at any time of the year, but they are especially popular during the holidays and top many consumers’ Christmas wish lists.
According to Cashcard.com, in 2014, gift cards accounted for more than 25 percent of holiday purchases. That number is expected to increase considerably in the coming years.
In addition to their convenience, another reason why people like giving and receiving gift cards is because most gift certificates and gift cards sold by retail stores don’t have expiration dates or a service fee, including a fee for dormancy.
However, thieves like gift cards too. In fact, they have become pretty savvy at finding ways to rip you off before your gift card is even activated.
One of the most common fraudulent practices among criminals is stealing gift cards from an open store rack display, recording the numbers on them and then placing the cards back among the others. Once a consumer buys one of the tampered gift cards, the scammer takes that recorded number to access the dollar amount and can call the number on it or the retailer to see if it’s been activated and then use it to purchase goods for themselves.
So, how can you avoid getting scammed when purchasing gift cards this holiday season? Here are a few precautions to consider.
- AVOID BUYING GIFT CARDS OPENLY DISPLAYED IN STORES– These can be easily tampered with. Ask the store manager to sell you gift cards from behind the customer service counter and ones that are pre-packaged.
- THOROUGHLY EXAMINE GIFT CARDS FOR SIGNS OF TAMPERING– If the PIN number is faded/scratched or part of the activation sticker is missing or not firmly affixed, don’t buy the card and immediately bring it to the attention of the store manager.
- BUY DIRECT FROM THE SOURCE—As tempting as it might be to save a few dollars somewhere else, always purchase your gift card directly from the issuing store. This way you can have the cards scanned and activated at checkout and have the salesperson verify your balance prior to leaving the store.
- TREAT THE GIFT CARD LIKE FAST CASH—Try to spend your card as soon as possible. Although gift cards don’t have expiration dates, it’s best not to leave them sitting around for months and risk losing them and have them get in the hands of someone they weren’t intended for.
- HOLD ON TO RECEIPTS—Most retailers can track where cards are purchased, activated and used.