If you’re buying gift cards this season (and honestly, most of us probably are) Consumerist.com has a warning about the new way thieves are draining gift card balances before the cards are even used.
When you purchase a gift card, some of them have the card number obscured by a scratch-off grey strip on the back, but others leave the number visible if you lift the edge of the cardboard carrier that the gift card comes in. When the gift card number is visible, thieves are recording these numbers for future use. After the holidays, they can call the 1-800 number on the back of the card, and once the card is activated, they’re free to shop.
The Consumerist story references a shopper who had this happen to him with a Macy’s gift card — before he had a chance to use it, thieves found out the card was active, then used the number of the gift card to shop online, draining the balance before he even took it to the store. From the article:
By this point, we’ve probably all given or received gift cards during the holidays. But most consumers don’t know how easy it is for scammers to steal value from these cards…
See, around this time of year, scam artists are going around and getting peeks at the numbers on cards available for sale at stores. They record these numbers, and then a few months from now they’ll go online or call up the 800 numbers for these cards to see if they have been activated and if they have been used.
An activated but unused card is an indicator that the cardholder isn’t rushing to use that gift card and probably won’t notice right away that it’s worthless. So the scammer will use the card number online — and sometimes in stores — to make purchases. It’s not until the actual cardholder eventually gets around to using the card (which can sometimes be months or years) that they realize the money is gone, gone, gone.
If you’re purchasing gift cards, look for cards with the grey security scratch-off strip intact, or ones where the card number is well-hidden under the cardboard carrier. (It wouldn’t hurt to take cards from the back of the rack too if the numbers are visible – on the theory that thieves may not take the time to dig to the back of the rack.)