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Scammers draining gift cards before you use them: How to protect yourself

Avoid holiday disappointment by taking these steps
Gift Cards
Posted at 3:00 AM, Oct 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-24 07:08:37-04

Whether giving a gift card or receiving one, nothing is worse than finding out the balance is wiped out.

One woman was stunned when a gift card she bought was worth nothing and wants to warn other shoppers about the steps she now takes when she purchases cards for the holiday season.

Amy Mehrle loves to dote on her children, baking cupcakes and giving them gift cards whenever they come home to visit.

But during a recent Christmas, she says, when her family opened their gifts, a gift card she bought her son for a rideshare service had already been drained by someone else.

When he went to load the card onto her phone, she said, "it said no money...zero balance."

No one could help her at the store or the company because she had no proof that she had purchased it two months earlier.

"The problem was I didn't keep my receipt," she said. That meant the money was gone.

"I lost $50," she said. "It was so disappointing."

Complaints every holiday season

Josh Planos with the Better Business Bureau, which gets hundreds of complaints about this every holiday season, says. Unfortunately, it's only getting easier for scammers to drain gift cards before they're used.

"They are going into the local grocery store," he said, "stealing all the information off of them because they don't actually need the physical card these days."

The BBB says they then watch for the card to be activated at the cash register. As soon as that happens, they spend all the money on it.

Planos says before you buy a gift card, give it a good inspection, front, and back. Look for any sign the packaging has been peeled back for a peak at the numbers inside.

"You want to ensure that it hasn't been tampered with, that it's still in its proper packaging," he said.

And if the store sells gift cards behind the counter, the BBB says you may want to buy one of those instead of one hanging out in the public area.

Once purchased, to protect the balance on your card, the BBB suggests you:

  • Register your gift card if you have the option.
  • Save the receipt until it is used.
  • Treat it like cash: If the card is lost or stolen, report it.
  • Try to use it as soon as possible.
  • Be wary of websites that promise to check your card's balance: you can't be sure they are trustworthy unless it is that actual merchant's site.
  • Empty card? It never hurts to call and ask the store if there's a way to get the money back.

"Depending on the retailer, they might even have a fraud hotline that you can use," he said.

This Christmas, besides baking for her kids, Amy Mehrle says she will save every receipt until they activate their cards.

"I will definitely keep the receipt, keep as much information as I can, and tape it to the back," he said.

That way, you have some proof of purchase, and you don't waste your money.

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