HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Gift cards are growing in popularity, especially around the holiday season as people are out shopping for the perfect present. Right now the FBI is warning gift card consumers about scams that drain the little plastic cards before you can spend them.
FBI Special Agent Supervisor Rob Cochran told News 3, "buyers beware!" The gift card industry totaled about $130 billion dollars last year. About $30 billion was spent around the holidays. Here's the kicker-of that $30 billion, $3 billion was lost to scams!
So how do crooks wipe the gift cards clean? Cochran explains, "They’ll scratch off the numbers and the pin cod; that small id code usually under a silver strip or hidden under the packaging. They copy it, then when somebody buys it and loads money on to the gift cards, the criminal can check online and drain the account."
Many gift cards now come in hard cardboard packaging or they display a warning saying if the card looks to be tampered with, do not buy it.
As the season gets busy, gift cards are a good idea to give to those special people on your list but the FBI has some steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Do not buy gift cards from online auctions. For example, if a site offers a $50 gift card for only $30, do not purchase it.
- Buy digital gift cards directly from the seller, that way the transaction is from point A to point B. If you buy an Amazon gift card from Amazon.com, nobody else will have had the chance to see/copy/use that serial number on the card, because it was never displayed in a store.
- Be conscious of what you are purchasing. If the cards looks like it was tampered with, do not buy it. If the site you're purchasing from seems illegitimate, do not put credit card information in there.
- Make gift cards purchases with a credit card, that way if the money is stolen you can file a claim rather than losing cash or having the amount taken directly from your account.
- Activate the cards at the counter. You can even ask the cashier how much is on the card once you buy it. Buying pre-loaded cards makes it easier for scammers to drain the money before you buy the gift card.
Many stores, after you buy gift cards they will tell you sales are final. Look up the card amount when you get to your computer to be sure you have the amount you paid for.
Last year the FBI Internet Crimes Complaint Center got more than 36,000 filed complaints, and that was only 10% of the total number of scam victims. If you do fall victim to a gift card or any other scam, make sure to report it to your credit card, the FBI, local law enforcement agency, etc. to prove that it was not your fault and hopefully get your money back.