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BBB: Watch out for gift card scams while holiday shopping

Whether you're buying a gift card online or grabbing one off the shelf at a store, the Better Business Bureau wants to ensure you shop carefully to save you from falling for a scam.

Whether you're buying a gift card online or grabbing one off the shelf at a store, the Better Business Bureau wants to ensure you shop carefully to save you from falling for a scam.  How The Scam Works A recent scam circulating around the country is when a scammer has placed a barcode sticker on top of the original barcode, so that when customers buy their gift card, they are actually loading a completely separate gift card that the scammer has all the information for.  For example, the barcode for a $100 liquor store gift card would be placed on top of a barcode for a $100 Playstation Store gift card instead. If you don’t catch the con during checkout, you end up activating their card instead of yours. “Scammers are always evolving their tactics,” said Simone Lis, President and CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Mainland BC. “What is happening currently is that scammers are taking empty gift cards home to reprint their barcodes to stick them on to another gift card in the store, so someone else pays for their card instead. If the customer pays for the card without double checking the scanned item at the checkout till, the stolen empty card would’ve been loaded with money instead of their own.”  When it comes to buying a gift card online or in-person, BBB recommends the following five tips:

  • Know who you are buying from. Little-known websites advertise 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. 
  • Don’t use third-party websites that offer to check your gift card's balance. According to BBB Scam Tracker 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 off your card. It’s always best practice to go to the store itself to confirm the remaining balance if you can.
  • Be wary of the value of your card, especially if you’re buying from a small company. Gift cards might seem like the perfect present for a hard-to-shop-for friend or family member, but they are not without drawbacks. When a store goes out of business, gift cards do too.  
  • Register your gift card. If the retailer allows the option to register the gift card, take full advantage of the service. 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. The longer a card sits around, the more likely a scammer is to steal the balance.
  • Buying a physical gift card? Take a closer look. 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 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.

Learn how to avoid holiday-related scams by visiting