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Preventing Gift Card Scams

Preventing Gift Card Scams


By: Andrew Erk

Preventing Gift Card Scams

The gift card. A classic holiday gift that fits most everyone’s needs especially when you don’t know what else to get. Some people, six in ten to be exact according to the National Retail Federation, even put them on their lists out right. What does that mean for you? Gift cards are highly susceptible to scams meaning you should be extra careful this holiday season.

Faulty Purchase?

Those large gift card stands are simple targets for scammers. They can easily take the gift card somewhere in the store, write down the card’s numbers and scratch off the strip to get the PIN. With the help of a nifty online replacement, the scammers can place a phony strip on the card. Once the card is activated and a balance is loaded onto the card, the scammer gets a notification, making swiping the money off of the card easy pickings.

However, some technology now checks to see if the card number has been registered online multiple times. If so, the card is deactivated immediately.

The Old Laundering Technique

Gift Cards can’t be redeemed for cash most of the time, but fear not, scammers have found a way to get around this problem by laundering the money. How? They purchase a bunch of gift cards from a store, then use them to buy high-end merchandise that they, in turn, sell for cash to unsuspecting consumers through an online marketplace.

Always be careful when dealing with people in the online marketplaces. Do some checking to see if you find anything suspicious. If so, don’t hesitate to tell someone or call the police.


Modern scammers will skip the store gift card stand and use their computer savvy to steal your gift card information. Scammers will use bots, or thousands of personal computers and internet of things devices, to perform tasks. As the bots take advantage of you trying to check your balance, the bots are testing millions of account and pin numbers. Once they get ahold of yours they can log into your account and use your gift card to purchase items or sell the card information on the dark web.

Use strong passwords and try to investigate what companies are using botnet defense systems. Not all companies are using botnet defense systems.

So, with all of the doom and gloom what do you need to do to prevent giving a gift card that may have no value when your loved one tries to use it.

Buy gift cards online, directly from the retailer.

Scammers don’t necessarily have easy access to a gift card purchased online so if the amount of the gift card you are purchasing is large, consider purchasing it online.

Inspect cards in store before purchasing.

As a scammer has easier access to store cards, be sure to inspect them carefully before you buy.  If the card is sealed in packaging, inspect it carefully for any signs of tampering.  If the card is not sealed, inspect it for any evidence that the barcode for the PIN number may have already been scratched off.

Change Security Code

As soon as the card is purchased, take the time to change the PIN on the card to keep bots and scammers from easily guessing and stealing what is stored on the card.

Get Funds Back

If the gift card company uses bot defenses, these companies can tell when something slips through their protection. If the money is taken off of your gift card, contact the issuer and ask for a refund.

Secure Your Computer

Secure your computer by keeping the software on the most recent updates as most software companies issue security updates on a regular basis. Have strong passwords that contain a wide variety of numbers, symbols, capital letters, and is nothing related to yourself. Doing so makes hacking into your computer and accounts very difficult. Always be careful when clicking links and do your best to be a smart internet consumer.

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Andrew Erk is our Trade Practice Assistant. He writes about business trends and consumer news and is also our social media, graphic design and digital guru.