Beware of gift card vampires

Buying gifts for a scammer isn’t something one might normally choose to do. If you pick up a gift card off of a rack from a store, however, you might be doing just that.

Gift cards have no value until they’re purchased and activated at a retail counter. That’s why gift cards are freely available for anyone to pick up and peruse at unguarded displays at stores. While these cards are not activated before purchase, eventually, they might be activated by people who buy them. Once activated, these cards can be used at locations outlined on material accompanying the cards.

Criminals know that gift cards might be activated by buyers at some point in time. To prepare for that possibility, they’ll snap pictures of card information and place the cards back on the rack. Afterwards, they’ll check on balances periodically to see if the cards have been activated. Once a card has a balance they can use, criminals will suck the card dry, leaving the buyer with an empty card.

To avoid buying a gift card that a thief has targeted for use, check the back of the card to make sure the silver scratch-off material covering the PIN number hasn’t been removed. If the number is exposed, do not buy the card. Gift cards located on racks where a thief has uninterrupted contact with the cards of their choice are poor locations to pick one up for purchase. Instead, buy those available next to or behind a cashier at a store. A thief is less likely to be able to inconspicuously snap a photo of a card in such a visible or protected area without anyone noticing.

Besides purchasing gift cards at a brick and mortar store, online gift card purchases also work well, as long as they’re from a legitimate source. Gift cards purchased directly from websites such as Amazon.com, Target.com, and Starbucks.com will yield exactly what you intended. Cards picked up from strangers at a discount from a secondary market such as Craigslist might not yield as favorable a result as those picked up online directly from an e-tailer. When a card is purchased from an unknown source, it might not contain the balance the seller claims. Always purchase gift cards from a reputable seller to make sure you receive the value you seek.

Don’t let gift card vampires suck your card balance dry before you or a recipient have a chance to use it. Always purchase cards from a reputable source and check the card to make sure PIN information is secure before you buy it.

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