BBB’s guide to gift cards

Published 2:33 pm Monday, December 18, 2023

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From the Better Business Bureau:

Whether you’re buying a gift card online or grabbing one off the shelf at a store, shop carefully to make sure you’re not falling for a scam.

Before purchasing a gift card online, BBB recommends the following tips:

• Buying a physical gift card? Watch for stickers covering gift card barcodes. Before buying a gift card, run your finger over the back to check whether a sticker has been applied on top of the barcode. Reports say that scammers can tamper with in-store gift cards by adding stickers printed with barcodes over top of the card’s real barcode. These fraudulent bar codes are connected to a different gift card account that the scammer controls. That means when you scan a phony barcode at the check-out and pay, you’ll be adding cash to a scammer’s account rather than onto your newly purchased gift card.

Look for ripped or wrinkled card packaging. No matter where gift cards are displayed in the store, thieves are known to remove gift cards from the display rack and record the numbers associated with that card, including the activation PIN. Before purchasing a gift card, look carefully at the packaging for any tears, wrinkles, or other indications of tampering, and see if the PIN or barcode is exposed. If anything looks suspicious, it’s probably best to take a different card and turn in the compromised card to the store’s Customer Service Desk.

Pass on too-good-to-be-true gift card deals. Watch out for websites or social media ads promoting gift cards for popular retailers at steep discounts. These websites might be using these offers to steal payment card numbers or other personal information. Instead, go directly to the merchant and purchase a card from them.

Research how to use the card. Not all retailers have the same policies when issuing a gift card.

Double-check the terms and conditions on the type of gift card purchased. The Federal Trade Commission has information on avoiding gift card scams.

Be wary of websites that offer to check your gift card’s balance. According to reports, some websites that claim to check your gift card balance are really a way to steal money off your card. These sites ask for your card’s ID number and PIN or security code. Then, scammers use the information to drain the money from your card.

Register your gift card. If the retailer allows the option to register the gift card, take full advantage. This makes it easier to protect the balance; that way, you can report it sooner and potentially end up saving the money that is stored on the card. Change the PIN on the card, and don’t delay in using the money.

Treat it like cash. If the card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers to report a lost or stolen card — find it on the card or online.