Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Conniving Gift Card Scam Bilking Shoppers

New reasons to avoid buying gift cards off of a rack like this

This isn't exactly a riveting story about low-carb, health, weight loss or fitness, but I think you'll be glad to hear about it since it very well could have a direct impact on you and your family, especially since it is something that is quite popular this time of the year.

It seems there is a conniving new gift card scam exposed by as TRUE that criminals are using to play Grinch this Christmas season and it has become a major concern for the millions of Americans who are expected to spend a record $25 billion, or $116 per American, on gift cards for their friends and family this year. If you have paid for gift cards or are planning on doing it, PAY ATTENTION!

Here's how the criminals steal the contents of the gift cards you purchase:

They mischievously approach a rack of blank gift cards like the one displayed at the top of this blog post and flip the cards over on the back to obtain and write down the redemption code number. Then, like dogs waiting to pounce on an innocent victim, these people begin checking online to see how much money they will have to spend once the cards become activated by an unsuspecting shopper. Purchases are then made at the retailer's online store and the crook completely drains the balance of the card leaving some very unhappy people when they go to redeem their gift cards after Christmas.

This is a disgusting and hateful thing to do, but it is indeed happening this year. While this doesn't work with gift cards for restaurants and other places that require you to present the actual card itself, it most certainly does work where the card is not required to redeem the balance. As long as you have the redemption code number, you can shop to your heart's content on the Internet with it and nobody will ever know. Yikes!

You might think that cardboard backing or scratch-off stuff on the back of the card will protect you, but the theives are even working around those issues. Here are just a few more actual ways criminals are committing gift card fraud:

1. Internal crime - Store employees grab the cards off the shelf and activate them for any amount they want at the front register to go on shopping binges for just about anything, including more gift cards. This is more of a problem for business owners, but that eventually impacts us all if they have to raise their prices to recuperate lost revenue that results from this.

2. The old switcheroo - A handful of blank gift cards are swiped by the misfits and then they return to the store to make an actual purchase of a gift card. But before leaving the store, they change their minds and decide to "return" the gift card. When the criminal goes back to the register, he presents one of the blank gift cards from his previous visit AND gets his money back.

3. Stolen gift cards show up on eBay - Loaded gift cards that are stolen are sold on eBay and other online shopping sites for a discount. But this could get you in trouble if the authorities discover you are using stolen goods.

4. The old switcheroo #2 - Another common scam is when a used gift card that is not reloadable replaces one that is packaged on the store rack inside of a cardboard sleeve with a UPC on the back. When the bum gift cards are "sold" at the register and they become activated, the criminal has the real card and can use it to make purchases. Meanwhile, the hapless customer is left with nothing but a useless plastic card.

I can't think of too many things that make me more furious than to see such childish sophomoric tactics being used to disrupt the joy and happiness of the Christmas holiday season. People who do things like this need to be required to pay a hefty fine and then thrown into prison for a while to teach them a lesson. It's like those computer geeks who create hardware-damaging computer viruses that destroy so many people's lives. GET A LIFE PEOPLE!

Here are a few quick and easy steps to avoid having gift card heartache:

- Purchase your card directly from a sales clerk rather than off a rack.
- Carefully examine any card that you purchase for signs of tampering.
- Only buy gift cards directly from the store's web site.
- Avoid bidding on gift cards on eBay and other auction sites.
- Keep your receipt with the amount of the gift card that you bought.
- Have the clerk check the gift card balance before leaving the store.
- Don't release any sensitive personal information to a gift card vendor.
- Where applicable, register your gift card at the store's web site.

Enjoy the Christmas shopping experience, but be smart about it. Otherwise, being a victim of gift card scams like this could raise your blood pressure!

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