When gift cards are sold in open displays, they give thieves another opportunity to take your money. Open displays give thieves easy access to gift card information, allowing them to write down the card numbers, check the gift card balances and use what is available on online purchases.
“When buying gift cards at stores, it best to purchase them from a customer service person where the general public does not have access to the cards,” says Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “Consumers also need to be cautious when buying gift cards from online auction sites because scammers are overstating the value of the cards being sold so the buyers aren’t getting what they are paying for.”
In addition to open displays, shoppers need to be careful with bulk sales of gift cards at online auctions sites. Often they offer great discounts; however, consumers may make the purchase and never receive their items.
To avoid being scammed when purchasing gift cards, the BBB offers these recommendations:
- Don’t buy gift cards from online auction sites. This is a large source of gift card fraud. These cheap gift cards may be worthless to you. Some of these cards are real, but many are stolen, counterfeit or used. It’s not worth the risk.
- Only buy gift cards directly from the store issuing the gift card or from a secure retailer’s website – No matter how much cheaper they may be somewhere else. If you do buy a gift card online, make sure you buy it from the place that you plan to use it.
- Don’t buy gift cards off of publicly displayed racks in retail stores. Don’t assume that because gift cards are inaccessible to the public, they are safe. Store employees can participate in gift card scams too.
- Always carefully examine both the front and back of a gift card before you buy it. If you can see a PIN number, put the card back and get a different one. If a gift card looks like it could have been tampered with, don’t buy that gift card.
- Always ask the store cashier to scan the gift card in front of you. This will guarantee that your card is valid when you buy it and that it reflects the balance you charged. This will also protect you from crooks who exchange worthless cards for the cards you think you are buying.
- Always keep your receipt as a proof of purchase as long as there is money stored on the gift card. Since many retailers can track where the gift card was purchased, activated and used, some retailers will replace a stolen card for you if you have your receipt.
- If possible, register your gift card at the store’s website. Although not all stores offer this option, you can uncover any misuse of your gift card sooner and report it more quickly.
- Finally, never, ever give your Social Security number, date of birth or any other unneeded private information when you purchase a gift card. No reputable company will ask for this information.