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Prefer to buy gift cards as Christmas presents? You should be aware of this holiday scam.

Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to gift card Grinches. Here's how to avoid being holiday hoodwinked.

gift card scam, gift card scam awareness, gift card fro christmas, discounted gift cards
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Watch out for gift card grinches this holiday season

Once upon a time, gift cards were seen as lazy, impersonal choices for Christmas presents. But nowadays, mindsets have shifted. In today’s more practically-focused, convenience-driven world, gift cards reign supreme. After all, when finances are tight, a free $20-$100 always offers the bonus gift of relief. It’s really no surprise that 29% of celebrators say they would actually prefer to receive gift cards or physical gifts according to Civic Science.


However, there are a few greedy Grinches out there ruining the gift card purchasing experience with multiple styles of scams. This kind of naughty behavior is so prevalent that since 2022, 73 million Americans have become unsuspecting targets

.


Over on TikTok, just type in hashtags like #GiftCardScam and #GiftCardScamAwareness, and you’ll find countless people sharing their own horror stories of being duped over what should have been a stress-free purchase.

One particular method used by scammers, as explained in a PSA below, is stealing cards in bulk, carefully opening the card envelope without damaging it, cutting off the tops of the cards with the vital information on it, then carefully placing the cut up card back into the envelope and resealing it.

The perp then returns the envelopes back to the store, and once an unsuspecting shopper purchases the gift card, they drain it for all its worth.

@quantum.healer PSA | Gift Card Scam Alert Please take note of the gift card scam that is alarming and is increasing this holiday season. #psa #fyp #fypviral #christmas #holidayseason #giftcardscams #bediligent #educationalpurposes #hawaiitiktok #hawaiitiktokers ♬ original sound - Suzy Aledo

To avoid being bamboozled, shoppers are encouraged to feel for the entire card inside the envelope, or ask the store to remove the cards from their envelope at checkout.

Scammers can also might put a fake barcode on top of the card, or simply scratch off the barcode, after they’ve recorded it of course. That’s why it’s vital to check a gift card thoroughly before walking out of the store with it.

Of course, occasionally cashiers are the ones doing the gift card swaps, so it pays to keep a watchful eye.

More often than not though, gift card scams happen over the phone or online. A few examples below:

An imposter calls pretending to be from a well known company or government agency claiming you owe money, and—of course—that the only way to pay them is with gift cards.

This is just a huge NO. Even if whoever is on the other line can somehow whip up personal information (which they procured on the dark web) no actual company would only take payment in the form of gift cards.

@abc7newsbayarea Gift cards are only for gifting! Scammers love using gift cards to steal your money and will try to trick you into buying them. 7 On Your Side’s Scam School has another lesson on what to look out for. #giftcards #giftcardscams #imposter #scam #scam? #scams #scamcalls #fraud #7onyourside #scamschool #abc7scamschool #news #fyp #foryoupage #abc7news ♬ original sound - ABC7 News

“Charity” campaigns on social media seemingly raising fund fora good cause, and accepting gift cards as payment.

Aura.com suggests using sites like CharityNavigator.org ,The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance andCharityWatch.org to check for any charity’s legitimacy. But if they’re asking for gift cards, it’s a dead giveaway they are not.

Fake websites for checking gift card balance.

This one is particularly sneaky, as almost everyone has the need to check their gift card’s remaining balance at some point. Your safest bet is to call the number on the back of your card to check the balance.

Fake profiles on dating sites that ask for gift cards as romantic gestures—a trip to see you, help with an emergency, etc. etc.

It’s a good general rule of thumb to never send any kid of money to a person you haven’t met. And to be aware of catfishing.

@sandyleenelson #duet with @Lori Fullbright #safetytip #fyp #foryoupage #scam #money #giftcardscams #London #Nigeria #notlove #dontfallforit #lie #liar #widow #onlinedating #Canada ♬ original sound - Lori Fullbright

An “accidental” refund that requires to to pay back in gift cards.

This happened to a woman in Wisconsin June 2022—she received an email from Amazon alerting her to a “fraud” on her account. When she called the phones number listed, the supposed Amazon rep “accidentally” refunded her $10,000 and told her she had to pay it back in gift cards. Sadly she didn’t realize it was a scam until she had lost $11,500.

If a rep “accidentally” sends you a refund, that’s a red flag. And if they suddenly need it to be paid back in gift cards, that red flag turns bright crimson.

One last tip regarding this, from Aura: Avoid installing remote access software, such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer, since these are the tools scammers use to manipulate your screen and make it look like they’ve refunded you too much money.

A random text from a family member in “urgent” need of help.

It’s best to trust your instincts here. If a message doesn’t quite sound like your loved one, it probably isn’t them. But rather someone who hacked their email or phone number.

Fake text messages from a boss or colleague in need of, you guessed it, “urgent” help.

Usually when this happens, the fake boss or colleague will ask that you send photo of the cards with the card number and PIN easily visible. But bottom line:no boss should be asking their employees to purchase gift cards. That’s just weird.

@ktsarna I tried my best… #fakeboss #scammers #scamtext #giftcardscams #boredathome ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys - Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

Getting a notification that you’ve won a sweepstakes that you never entered, and that you have to pay certain fees with gift cards.

In this case—the “winner” is the loser. Basically, you can’t win sweepstakes you haven’t even entered. So if you get a notification saying otherwise, someone is trying to hoodwink you.

Discounted gift cards being sold on platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.

Look, it’s no surprise that these online selling sites are pretty much the Wild Wild West. And when you’re in a lawless territories with very little projections, a good rule of thumb to live by is : if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

In this scenario, a three-way call to an automated line will be initiated between you, the seller and the marchant to “prove” the balance is on the card. But as you type in the card number and PIN, the scammers are able to reverse engineer that information using the key tones. Crazy, right?

There are, however, legitimate discounted gift card selling sites like CardCash or ClipKard if you’re looking to save, without being scammed.

No one deserves to have their holiday season ruined by a Scrooge. Hopefully this information helps make your Christmas shopping a little safer.

All GIFs and images via Exposure Labs.


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