On Your Side: Gift Card Scam

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December 22, 2006

We're getting close to last minute status for those Christmas gifts. For many of the people on your list, it may mean gift cards.

But those convenient gifts can leave you open to scams.

$24.81 billion will be spent this holiday season on gift cards, up from $18.48 billion last year...but as the business booms, so does the chance of crooks getting their hands on them.

Instead of buying gifts every year, Teresa Fulmer chooses plastic instead.

"I'd buy them for my kids, Christmas, birthday, because I never knew what to get them," she said.

But that convenience may come at a price.

Since she's learned of the gift card scam, she says she won't buy them anymore.

"It scares me, because I don't want anyone taking money I gave to my family to give to someone else."

The scam works like this: Crooks look for the serial numbers on the back of the gift cards. Some stores like Target even display it on the back, making it even easier for thieves to jot down the numbers while they're still inside the store.

Once they have the serial numbers, they call the store to find out what the balance is on the card. Once it's activated, it becomes the gift that keeps on giving for a crook shopping on the internet.

Despite the easy access, Target manager Anna Thompson tells us they haven't had a reported scam at their store in Aiken.

"I feel like Target is on top of it to make sure it's not an issue for our guests," she said.

To prevent it, some stores like Wal-Mart provide their consumers with extra security by hiding the digits under a silver scratch panel. That way, if the cards are on display, you can quickly scan the back to make sure it hasn't been tampered with.

"I thought it was safe," Teresa said. "I never thought someone else could use them."

So from now on, she says she'll give her gifts the old-fashioned way.

"I have bought presents, wrapped them and put them under the tree," she said.

Both Aiken County and Richmond County sheriff's offices tell us so far they have not seen any gift card scams, but they don't expect the problems to be reported until after Christmas, when everyone starts using their cards.

To make sure you aren't a victim, be sure to check the back of the card for a silver scratch-off area to see if it's been tampered with. If the card doesn't have a coating over the number, you can always ask an employee to pull one from the back. That way, you know it hasn't been on the floor yet.