The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 30, 2013

Rigged cards may lurk in racks

How holiday gift buyers can avert ripoffs

By Joanne Arbogast
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — SUNBURY - This year, four out of five shoppers plan to purchase at least one gift card, and spend $163 on gift cards alone, according to a National Retail Federation survey ( and click on “Gift Card Survey Data” under Holiday 2013).

Be careful with gift card purchases — they are increasingly popular targets for scammers. Retailers are seeing — and reporting — more incidents of gift card ripoffs.

Gift card buyers are reminded to keep their activation/proof of purchase receipt and make sure the silver security panel on the back of the card has not been tampered with.

However, this may no longer enough to protect against fraud. Cards can be stolen from a store, compromised or copied with a portable scanner and then placed back on the rack by the scammer.

Once the cards are purchased and activated, the scammers can then find out the card value and use it to shop online or in stores.

According to a CBS (KPIX-5) online report “ConsumerWatch: Scammers Finding New Ways To Target Gift Cards,” “Nationwide, law enforcement believes crooks have figured out a way to replicate the silver security panel on gift cards so consumers have no way of knowing that it has been tampered with or used. Once the unsuspecting consumer activates the card, the scamsters spend the money via mobile app or online before the consumer has a chance to use it,” the report warns. “Police are calling on retailers to remove the cards from public access and put them behind the customer service counter to ensure they aren’t compromised or removed by thieves.”

However, many grocery and retail stores balk at making the cards inaccessible to customers, claiming people prefer to browse through the selections.

Though many stores now have a policy of not issuing refunds or exchanges on gift cards, it is still advisable to keep your receipt so the card’s activity can be tracked.

Many people also purchase gift cards online. As with any online purchase, it is recommended you use a credit card instead of a debit card. If your credit card information is stolen, you stand a better chance of not losing your money. For debit card purchases, the money comes directly out of your bank account.