Get Gephardt: Gift card racks can be an easy mark for crooks

"Scammers copy the gift card codes and then they scratch off the strip on the back of the card to steal the pin,” she said. “Then, once you load money onto the card, they can steal from you." (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) — You wouldn't buy a gift card that was just a worthless piece of plastic. But alas, that's what many are doing. Scammers have figured out a way to drain gift cards and steal your money.

The physical cards for specific stores and vendors that you buy off a rack can be an easy mark for criminals. Get Gephardt has received calls from three different people in Utah who say the cards they bought were drained within minutes — even though the card never left their hands. As we began investigating, we quickly realized it's a massive problem all over the country.

So how are the crooks doing it? We took the question to Tobie Stanger with the consumer watchdog group Consumer Reports.

"Scammers copy the gift card codes and then they scratch off the strip on the back of the card to steal the pin,” she said. “Then, once you load money onto the card, they can steal from you."

You would never display your debit card and pin number for all to see, but with gift card racks, that is exactly what is happening. Flip many cards over, and there's all the info a crook needs to drain it the second money is put on the card.

If you're going to buy a gift card, always check the packaging for physical tampering, make sure the protective stickers or coating are intact, and never buy any card if its pin is revealed.

“Consumer Reports thinks a more attractive option is to get a re-loadable, prepaid card from a charge card or credit card company like Visa or American Express,” she said. “These issuers will limit your liability to $50, and sometimes zero, if you report the theft within two days.”

Get Gephardt found many of those cards had the bar code and pin number better protected than some of the individual store gift cards. An additional benefit is that a re-loadable, prepaid card from charge cards or credit cards company like Visa or American Express are more widely accepted as a form of payment.

In past years, holiday gift card purchases have topped some $27 billion. They are hotly requested. About six in 10 people prefer to shop for themselves with a gift card rather than to receive a present under the tree.

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