We are in peak gift-card-buying season as the holidays rapidly approach—which means that scammers are also in their peak season of trying to trick us into buying gift cards that those on our list won’t actually be able to use. We’ve previously covered how scammers pretend to be from the IRS or other figures of authority to get you to pay for things with gift cards. But time only makes scammers more sophisticated and creative, so here are the new gift-card scams to watch out for.
How to spot tampered gift cards in a store
Unbought gift cards have been tampered with for years, but it’s usually the old trick where scammers take a gift card, find the PIN information, and then put it back on the shelves where it waits for a victim to buy it and put money on it. They do this by periodically calling the number on the back of the card to see if there’s a balance, and then draining it as soon as there is. But now, scammers are printing their own barcodes and placing them over the real ones; once the card is activated and money from a victim is put onto it, the money ends up going to an existing card owned by the scammer, and you end up giving a gift card worth exactly zero dollars.
To guard against giving this sad gift, examine the gift cards for any sign of tampering before putting any money on it. The barcode number should match the one on the back of the packaging. Peel the barcode to see if it comes off, and compare it to the other ones on the shelves to see if anything looks off.
If you do find a tampered gift card, give it to the customer service department to avoid anyone else mistakenly buying it. If you put money onto one, contact the card’s company and let them know. You can also let your bank know and potentially get a refund if you paid with a credit card.
Know about this scam on Apple gift cards
A viral TikTok video made the rounds recently about a woman purchasing $100 Apple gift cards at Target. She was scammed when she purchased one and could not use the card when she got home and realized the last few numbers of the code were whited out—and she couldn’t get a refund because Target has a strict return policy on gift cards.
The lesson here is that you should verify any gift card you buy from stores because they are easily manipulated. If you want to buy a gift card for a specific store, you’re better off buying it online or directly from that store (if they are stored behind a glass barrier or counter). Gift cards that are left in the open for costumers to handle are not safe.
Be wary of “free” gift cards in exchange for information
Have you gotten one of those “Win a free $100 Amazon gift card!” messages yet? These types of scams try to lure you in with an enticing offer that simply isn’t real. They usually ask you for your personal information so they can send you the gift card as part of the application. They might ask for a social security number, bank information, or to download a file to “transfer” the gift card to you.
These are especially troublesome because there are free gift cards out there are actually legitimate, but there are ways to weed out the fake ones from the real ones. Check the URLs, phone numbers, and email addresses they provide and cross-reference them with the real companies. If they don’t match, you can be fairly certain it’s a scam. Another way is to contact the company they are trying to impersonate and ask if they really are offering such a gift-card program.
Or just remember: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.