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Better Business Bureau: Beware of gift card scams this holiday season

Just a few more weeks to wrap up your holiday shopping. One simple way to take away the stress of finding that perfect present is a gift card. It’s also a popular one. According to the National Retail Federation, the top item people would like to receive most this holiday season is a gift card. In fact, 60 percent of respondents to a holiday spending survey by Proper Insights & Analytics preferred gift cards over clothing, jewelry or electronics.

Unfortunately, scammers know this as well. Con artists use multiple tactics to steal money off gift cards before the recipient can use it. When the card holder tries to make a purchase, there is no dollar figure left on the card.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following five tips when purchasing a gift card this holiday season:

  • Examine the gift card. Before purchasing, be sure to give it a thorough look to make sure the PIN is not exposed, or the packaging hasn’t been tampered with. If anything looks suspicious, it’s best to let the store know and grab a new one. Scammers are known to remove gift cards from the store rack, record the numbers and then put it back on the rack — usually in the front of the display so it’s purchased quicker (It’s a good rule of thumb to grab gift cards from the back of the rack). Once the customer buys the card, the scammer uses the number online and wipes the gift card clean before the customer even has a chance to use it.
  • Do your research. It’s best to double-check the terms and conditions, expiration date or any fees tied to the gift card before you decide to purchase one. Some stores charge service or setup fees, or limit the gift card to in store only.
  • Register your gift card. If the retailer allows the option to register your card, take full advantage. Registering your gift card makes it easier to keep track of issues of any misuse occurring, that way you can report it sooner.
  • Treat it like cash. If you lose your gift card or someone steals it, report it to the issuer immediately. Some issuers may not allow you to recover the funds; others will, but for a fee.
  • Use caution when buying from a third party. If you purchase a gift card at an auction or on a third-party website, you may end up with a card that has no value, is expired or was fraudulently obtained by another source. The seller could sell you a gift card that does indeed have the actual balance on it but may steal the numbers and start wiping the cards after you receive it.

Finally, never pay with a gift card. No reputable business would ask for a payment this way. If you receive a call demanding you must pay using a gift card, just hang up. Scammers use scare tactics by threatening you with jail time unless you pay them immediately with a gift card. These scare tactics are nothing but a way to try and get your hard-earned money.