Use your gift cards before scammers get ahold of them

December 29, 2011 4:27:16 PM PST
The sale of gift cards is a billion dollar business, with nearly $30 billion being bought just this year alone. And as gift cards grow in popularity, consumers are increasingly putting gift cards in a drawer and letting them sit for years.

If you have an old gift card laying around, check the balance. It could have been used by scammers years ago and you'll never know until you try to use the card.

From coffee to gas to electronics, there are gift cards for just about everything. Nate Barrs wanted to use his Target gift cards after Christmas, but there was a problem.

"Upon going to the cash register, they stated that these gift cards were no longer valid," Barrs said.

It turns out Barrs, like many Americans, got his gift cards years ago and he never used them. So when he finally tried, he learned the cards had been used by someone else years earlier.

"They said on the same date on December 22 of a different year, the cards had been used at the exact same time at three different locations -- two locations in Louisiana and one on 59 North," Barrs said.

He says his frustration was made worse when Target employees told him the store could not refund the money.

"One was for $60, another was for $10 and the other was for $75; and right now you are out of your money," he said.

Barrs' problem is nothing new. It is estimated that U.S. consumers hold billions of dollars worth of unused cards and there is the potential that some of those cards may have already been used by scammers.

"What is important to remember is that something like this can happen; it does not happen all the time, but it is a possibility and you have to be aware of that," said Monica Russo with the Houston Better Business Bureau.

Russo says the best advice when it comes to gift cards is to use them soon after receiving them.

"Use it as soon as possible and if you are buying a gift card, do not buy gift cards that are on public display, buy ones that are behind the counter or buy them on line so that you can protect the recipient from gift card fraud," she said.

We did contact Target about the gift card fraud and have yet to hear back from the company. However, some companies allow you to register your gift card, which is good way to prevent fraud.


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