Innovative gift card scam plagues shoppers; the simple step you can take to avoid being a victim

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Tuesday, December 12, 2023
Sneaky gift card scam on the rise during holiday season
North Carolina shoppers found out the hard way how important it is to carefully examine gift cards before you buy them.

PINOLE, Calif. -- Police are warning about an innovative gift card scam that's going around this holiday season.

Shoppers in California recently lost hundreds of dollars to the scam.

They bought gift cards without any trouble, but when they got home, they learned the cards had been tampered with.

Scammers have worked out ways to drain gift cards this holiday season.

"When the person buys the card, they have a barcode that is visible on the outside of the envelope. This is what's scanned at the register," explained Sgt. Barry Duggan of the Pinole Police Department in a social media video made to warn shoppers.

The part of the gift card that is scanned to load money onto it is different from the part that is used to spend the money. So the scammers have figured out they can cut off the part needed to spend the money and leave the other part on the shelf.

Shoppers in California bought hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards, but when they got home, they realized they were worthless.

So what happens is a shopper buys the gift card, gets money loaded onto it and heads home unaware. But then when they open the gift card or gift it to someone else, they realize the gift card is completely useless and the money spent on it is effectively in the hands of a scammer they have never met.

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"Somebody was taking all these cards from the store without paying for them and without loading them up, taking them home. And what they do, is they heat up these envelopes to where they can open them as carefully as they can, remove the card and actually cut the top of the card off," Duggan said.

To avoid becoming a victim of this crime, Pinole Police Department suggests every shopper remove the gift card envelopes at check out to make sure they have not been cut or otherwise tampered with.

"Go ahead and open that card. Make sure that the barcode is there. Make sure that it's not cut off. Make sure that it hasn't been tampered with," Natasha Valdepena, a spokesperson for the Pinole Police Department, said. "Because if you're going to see that, if you see that before you leave the store, you already know -- even if it was a mistake, even if it was accidentally -- you're going to know, this card is probably not going to be able to be used. The money won't be on it."

SEE ALSO | Buying gift cards? Watch out for these scams that make the cards worthless

Gift cards are one of the most popular gifts to give this holiday. With this popularity, scammers have worked out ways to drain those cards.