Scammers Empty Gift Cards Before You Use Them: How to Protect Yourself

Whether it’s giving a gift card or receiving one, there’s nothing worse than finding out the balance is gone.

A woman was stunned when a gift card she bought was worthless and wants to warn other shoppers of the steps she is now taking when buying cards for the holiday season.

Amy Mehrle loves taking care of her kids, baking cupcakes and giving them gift cards every time they come home.

But on a recent Christmas, she says, when her family opened their presents, a gift card she had bought her son for a ride-sharing service had already been used up by someone else.

When he went to load the card on his phone, she said “there was no money…zero balance”.

No one could help her at the store or the business because she had no proof that she had bought it two months earlier.

“The problem is, I didn’t keep my receipt,” she said. That meant the money was gone.

“I lost $50,” she said. “It was so disappointing.”

Complaints every holiday period

Josh Planos with the Better Business Bureau, who receives hundreds of complaints about it every holiday season, says. Unfortunately, it’s getting easier and easier for scammers to empty gift cards before they’re used.

“They go to the local grocery store,” he said, “stealing all the information from them because they don’t actually need the physical map these days.”

The BBB says they then monitor the card activation at the cash register. As soon as that happens, they spend all the money on it.

Planos says that before you buy a gift card, give it a good front and back inspection. Look for any signs that the wrapper has been peeled off for a spike in the numbers inside.

“You want to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with, that it’s still in its proper packaging,” he said.

And if the store sells gift cards behind the counter, the BBB says you might want to buy one instead of hanging around in the public area.

Once purchased, to protect your card balance, the BBB offers you:

  • Register your gift card if you can.
  • Keep receipt until used.
  • Treat it like cash: if the card is lost or stolen, report it.
  • Try to use it as soon as possible.
  • Beware of websites that promise to check your card balance: you can’t be sure they’re trustworthy unless it’s the merchant’s website.
  • Empty card? It never hurts to call and ask the store if there is a way to get the money back.

“Depending on the retailer, they may even have an anti-fraud hotline that you can use,” he said.

This Christmas, in addition to cooking for her children, Amy Mehrle says she will save every receipt until they activate their cards.

“I will definitely keep the receipt, save as much information as I can, and tape it to the back,” he said.

This way you have proof of purchase and you don’t waste your money.

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Michael N. Clark