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Doreen's Deals: Buying gift cards for the holidays? Beware of this new scam

By Doreen Christensen, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Fashion Daily News

Cyber grinches are working overtime this holiday season to steal gift cards from unsuspecting consumers, warns the Better Business Bureau.

A growing scam has emerged in which hackers remove gift cards off racks in stores where they are often kept out in the open and use a magnetic strip reader to scan account numbers. They scratch off the material on the back to get the PIN and apply a replacement strip. Unsuspecting consumers then buy the cards and are none the wiser.

After the card is loaded with cash, the thief gets an alert that funds are on the card and then goes on a shopping spree, draining the card balance, or programs a new blank card that can be used in stores. Card reader/writer encoders - which conveniently come with blank credit cards - are available on online for as little as $85.

"Before purchasing a gift card, look carefully at the packaging for any tears, wrinkles, or other indications of tampering, and see if the PIN is exposed," warns the BBB. "If anything looks suspicious, it's probably best to take a different card, and turn in the compromised card to the store's customer service desk."

This novel new swindle is not a surprise considering the popularity of these easy-to-give gifts. For the 13th year in a row, gift cards are the most popular items on wish lists, requested by 59% of those surveyed by the National Retail Federation.

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They are so popular, gift cards have grown more than 100% since 2013, according to Mercator Advisory Group, an advisor to the payments industry. Gift card purchases increased 3% last year, to $95.7 billion, a survey by the company reported.

You can protect yourself. The Federal Trade Commission and the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center offer these tips when buying, giving and using gift cards.

Check cards for an expiration date or fees and note any terms and conditions.

Use gift cards as soon as possible. We often lose or forget about them.


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