Crooks tampering with gift cards before a customer even buys them
Gift cards are easy and practical, making them the perfect present, but scammers know that too.
Before you start shopping on Black Friday, beware of a stealthy trick hitting the market.
“That particular gift card scam involves scammers placing a barcode over the original barcode on a gift card,” said Katarina Schmieder of the Better Business Bureau.
The fake barcodes are stickers! They can look like the real thing.
“When you go to add funds to it, it goes to a different account that the scammer controls,” Schmieder said.
A report just released by BBB states scammers have doubled down on gift cards as a method to steal money. BBB found all types of gift card scams, whether it’s in stores or online, are up 50% from this same time last year.
13Investigates emailed many stores that sell gift cards including Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target, CVS, Walgreens and BJ’s.
BJ’s never responded to the inquiry, but the other popular retailers sent us statements. The retailers said they have several security tactics they use to try to reduce fraud and consumer scams.
Many employees receive training to recognize the warning signs and the companies also work with police to hold bad actors accountable.
“It’s big business.” said Rick Proctor, an associate professor of finance at Siena College. “The Federal Trade Commission estimates that last year there was over $230 million in gift card fraud.”
Proctor said it’s relatively easy for a scammer to get away with it.
“A gift card is anonymous. It’s not like a credit card where your name and address and Social Security (number) are linked to it. Once you have the information, you can use it anonymously. It’s very easy for a thief.”
However, with this scam, the thieves aren’t getting your personal information.
“What they are getting is the information that activates the card and uses the card. They’re getting access to the $50 you loaded on it,” Proctor said.
Proctor said you could be passing by a scammer in the store.
“Somebody is entering the store and doctoring the cards — whether they take cards out and bring them back doctored. But yes, they are physically in the store.”
BBB does have some tips to spot a gift card scam.
“You can run your finger over the barcode to see if there’s a sticker over it or see if it’s been tampered with at all. If the box looks like it’s damaged or ripped at all, that’s a red flag and take that to somebody at the store immediately. I would not recommend moving forward with purchasing that particular gift card,” Schmieder said.
You should also report any fraud to the BBB.
“Another way is to select a gift card that’s from the back of the rack where it’s hung. The thief wants the card to be used now so that they can steal your money now. If you buy a gift card from the back, take it off from the back of the rack. It’s less likely to have been doctored by a scammer,” Proctor said.
Always get a receipt. You’ll have all the information you’ll need to report the crime.