With the holidays come and gone, you’re probably left with a few gift cards in your wallet. They’re a popular gift this time of year—when you don’t know exactly what to get someone, why not let them pick something themselves?
But before you head out to your favorite store to pick up a nice post-holiday gift for yourself, be warned:
Some of those gift cards might secretly be empty.
No, it’s not your co-worker trying to get away with not paying for a Secret Santa gift—it’s scammers draining gift cards of their value before anyone notices.
These scams have been going on for years, and while stores continue to do their best to fight back and protect the consumer, every year brings new reports of gift card recipients winding up with nothing.
Last year, a woman named Alex Stevenson received a present from her sister: a $200 gift card to Best Buy. That kind of credit could’ve gone a long way.
But when Stevenson reached the cashier, she was told it was worthless.
“It was rejecting the card,” she told CBS New York. “And he didn’t understand why.”
There are a few ways scammers get away with this. One way is through digital hacking—
But another way is to do it right there in the store. These scammers take the gift cards right off the shelf, scratch off the security sticker on the back, and write down the activation code, allowing them to drain the cards without buying them.
The packaging warns customers not to buy gift cards with a revealed code, but scammers cover their tracks by replacing the “zebra sticker” so no one catches on.
Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor with Consumer Reports, told CBS that this is something to consider when purchasing a gift card. Many stores now offer more secure packaging, reducing your risk of being conned.
“If you are going to buy one in a store, make sure it has good packaging so you can’t see the account number without opening the packaging,” Blyskal said.
He also recommends buying the cards online (directly from the retailer) and, in the event that you do fall victim to one of these scams, simply tell the store.
“Go back to the retailer and say you want your money back.”
As for Alex Stevenson and her Best Buy gift card, the store was able to refund the cost. So as companies continue to wage war with scammers, at least there’s hope for the customers—just don’t give up and settle for an empty gift card.