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Gift Card Fraud

Be careful when selecting gift cards for your friends and loved ones. Crooks have learned how to exploit this popular form of gift-giving through tampering, trickery and outright theft.

Even when the Holiday season is over, gift card sales are a year round business for many retailers. Because of this we want to bring gift card scams to your attention. These scams can drain the value right out of your card before you get to use it.

"Card Not Present" Scam

The first, and rarest (although it does occur) of these is called the Card Not Present or "CNP" scam. Swindlers record the numbers on cards offered for sale, then periodically check to see if the cards bearing those numbers have gone "live". By "live" we mean that the cards were sold, activated and had a monetary value added to them. When they find cards that have, they use them to make online "card not present" (aka "CNP") purchases. Using the gift card this way allows the scammer to drain them of their cash values before their intended recipients can use them.

This doesn't work on all gift cards, however, just the ones allowing "card not present" situations such as online transactions. While a scam artist can in many cases easily physically access gift card numbers by prying the card from its packaging and putting it back once the number is written down, it's not not easy to hide the fact that the cards' PIN number is now visible. Once the covering has been scratched away it can't be put back. Ironically, the packaging itself can conceal that the card has been tampered with.

If you then purchased one of these cards, the fact that it had been tampered with and its PIN number coating removed might go undetected until its recipient attempts to use it! Many people don't understand the importance of the PIN number anyway, so a scratched off PIN coating might not raise any alarm. We suggest that consumers only purchase cards stored in secure locations that make tampering difficult. We can't let that piece of advice go without letting you know that store clerks have also been known to engage in this scam. So purchasing gift cards stored under lock and key may reduce your chances of being ripped off but it won't guarantee protection from this scam.

Whether you choose a gift card from a store display or have a clerk hand it to you, always take the time to examine both side of the packaging before paying for it. Better yet, remove the packaging before you leave the store. If you can see the PIN number or detect signs of tampering, don't pay for the card or ask for another. Let the store's management know why. If the card can't be used for online or "card not present" purchases you don't have to worry as much because the thief would need the card in hand to use it.

Overstated Value Scams

Another, more common form of gift card fraud, is when a reseller overstates the values of the cards they're selling. Yet another involves thieves using stolen credit cards to load gift cards which they turn around and sell for cash.

Other ways gift cards have been abused by criminals:

How to avoid gift card scams

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