Gift card purchases: Buyer beware, BBB warns

Online Staff Report

Over the past several years, spending on gift cards has increased dramatically. The National Retail Federation estimates this year shoppers will spend more than $31 billion on them.

Gift cards are convenient, budget conscious and are welcome gifts. However, are they safe? The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says last-minute shoppers need to take precautions buying and using them.

Gift cards sold at open displays create problems for consumers. Thieves enter a store and write down the card numbers they find on gift card displays. After they have the information, they wait a few days, call the card issuer, check the balance remaining, and then go online and begin shopping with your money.

When buying gift cards at stores, it best to get them from a customer service person where the general public does not have access to the cards,” said Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the BBB. “Consumers also need to be cautious when buying gift cards from online auction sites because scammers are overstating the value of the cards being sold so the buyers aren’t getting what they are paying for.”

Also, shoppers need to be careful with bulk sales of gift cards at on online auctions sites, often they offer great discounts; however, consumers may make the purchase and receive nothing in return.

For protections against being scammed, the BBB offers the following recommendations:

Don’t buy gift cards from online auction sites. This is a large source of gift card fraud, these cheap gift cards may well be worthless to you. Some of these cards are real, but many are stolen, counterfeit or used. It’s not worth the risk.

Only buy gift cards directly from the store issuing the gift card or from a secure retailer’s website — no matter how much cheaper they may be somewhere else. If you do buy a gift card online, make sure you buy it from the place that you plan to use it.

Don’t buy gift cards off publicly displayed racks in retail stores. Don’t assume that because gift cards are inaccessible to the public that they are safe. Store employees can participate in gift card scams, too.

Always carefully examine both the front and back of a gift card before you buy it. If you can see a PIN number, put the card back and get a different one. If a gift card looks like it could have been tampered with, don’t buy that gift card.

Always ask the store cashier to scan the gift card in front of you. This will guarantee that your card is valid when you buy it and that it reflects the balance you just charged it with. This will also protect you from crooks who exchange worthless cards for the cards you think you are buying.

Always keep your receipt as a proof of purchase as long as there is money stored on the gift card. Since many retailers can track where the gift card was purchased, activated and used, if the card is stolen, some retailers will replace the card for you if you have your receipt.

If possible, register your gift card at the store’s website. Although not all stores offer this option, you can uncover any misuse of your gift card sooner and report it more quickly.

Finally, never, ever give your Social Security number, date of birth or any other unneeded private information when you purchase a gift card. No reputable company will ask for this info.

To find out more about scams, visit

Posted Dec. 23, 2014

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