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It’s holiday time and many of us are wandering around stores and malls searching for the perfect gift. We roam the isles and, having been unable to find an appropriate item to purchase, we surrender and approach the rack of gift cards.

Gift cards are a wonderful gift idea. It allows the recipient to select a gift that best suits his/her needs and wants.

Gift cards are also an opportunity for criminals to steal the funds that you generously placed on that card. During the first nine months of 2021, the Federal Trade Commission has reported over $148 million in gift card theft!

To begin, digital scammers are using “bots;” software applications that are designed to perform a specific task. One such task is to search for newly activated gift card numbers. When they locate an activated card number, they use it to make purchases for themselves or sell the information for a discounted dollar amount. The recipient of the gift card will be left holding nothing more than a valueless piece of plastic.

Additionally, gift card thieves are printing their own barcodes and placing them on the back of unpurchased gift cards. Rather than placing funds on the card, the money is actually diverted to a criminal’s bank account.

When purchasing gift cards, examine the rear of the card. Should you see any sign of tampering or the placement of a barcode sticker, please report it to store management. In addition to avoiding victimization, you will likely save some other unsuspecting consumer from becoming a victim of fraud.

Ensure that the gift card number on the back of the card matches the number on its packaging.

While cumbersome, select cards from the middle or rear of the display. In an effort to avoid detection and to leave quickly, criminals often place tampered cards at the front of the rack.

Make certain that the cashier immediately hands you the card once it is activated…and that it is the same card that you presented to the cashier.

Lastly, avoid purchasing gift cards from online auction sites. These cards are easily tampered with.

Should you receive a gift card during the holiday season…or at any time of the year…use it quickly. The longer an activated gift card remains unused, the more likely that the funds will be stolen.

Report all gift card fraud to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.