Gift cards are a quick and easy way to give the recipient the freedom to pick out something nice for themselves. According to Statista, nearly 50 percent of U.S. consumers plan to buy gift cards due to their simple convenience. With a range of choices from music to food to entertainment, many retail and grocery stores offer a display rack of gift card options to fit the recipient and the occasion.
Gift card number scam
Unfortunately, scammers, always attuned to consumers’ purchasing preferences, have devised a new way to swindle from the system. The gift card number scam is a scam where the crook will go to the retail store location for the purpose of recording card and pin numbers off of displayed gift cards. Once the numbers are recorded, the cards are returned to the front of the display rack, waiting for an unsuspecting shopper to purchase the card.
The card and pin numbers, now loaded with a balance, are then used by the scammer to make online purchases. As many gift cards are not immediately used, the scammer has enough time to monitor for a balance being loaded onto the card to then make a quick purchase and be gone like the wind. The unknowing gift card holder then tries to make a purchase, only to learn that there is a zero balance. The prime target for these schemes may be the retail store’s own gift cards based on a higher likelihood of being purchased on any given day and a wide variety of goods for which the scammer can later use the stolen gift card.
How to protect yourself
Most gift cards have built-in security features, which remain effective if inspected by the consumer prior to purchase. Most retailers provide guidance on their websites regarding the particulars of their gift card security features.
If purchasing in-store, look for security seals that have been removed from the gift card’s pin number. If the pin number is removed or altered, choose one that is not.
Choosing gift cards from the middle of the display rack may be a particularly effective method for avoiding compromised gift cards. Scammers, hoping for a quick return on a fraudulent investment, will typically place the compromised gift cards towards the front of the rack in hopes of a purchase over the next several days. Gift cards in the middle of the display rack are less likely to have been accessed and should be a much safer purchase.
Lastly, gift cards purchased online and directly from the retailer have the added benefit of not being readily available for the scammer’s inspection.
Scammers, always looking for system vulnerabilities, are best defeated through preventative education.