Now that you have only a few days to complete your holiday shopping, you’ll likely consider grabbing a gift card or two, or ten. They are convenient and may even keep you out of crowded shopping malls, but they are also convenient for crooks.
Ryan Ortiz of Santa Clara purchased a Toys R Us gift card for his nephew at the Rivermark Safeway Store in Santa Clara. But when he got home he noticed the number on the upper tab didn’t match the number on the card. He called the customer service line on the card and learned he’d been ripped off.
“They told me the card I had just activated had no balance and the card I was holding had not been activated at all," Ortiz said.
Someone had carefully glued on a different activation tab, so when it was swiped they had money on the card they stole and went shopping on Ortiz’s tab
"It was unsettling that I was the victim of this kind of crime,” Ortiz said.
Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Tom Flattery says the scam is not uncommon. In 2010, he prosecuted a case involving a woman who bought more than $74,000 of products at Best Buy using fraudulent gift cards.
”When our detectives served a search warrant they recovered 3,000 fraudulent gift cards,” said Flattery. He says during the holidays when stores are crowded it is much easier for criminals to tamper with gift cards without being noticed.
There are two main ways crooks cheat your out of your money. Often criminals switch the activation tab so you end up activating the criminals card.
“The other is where the crook records the card number and creates a cloned card using a skimmer to record the information,” said Flattery.
He says the best way to protect your investment is to inspect the gift card carefully to see if it has been tampered with and compare it with similar cards on display. You should also check the wax cover over the security code to see if it has been scratched off. He also suggests you purchase your gift cards from behind the counter and look for cards encased in heat sealed plastic because they are more difficult for criminals to tamper with.
Finally, try to register your card for an added level of security. Flattery also warns against purchasing gift cards on Craig’s List or ebay because they often don’t contain the amount promised.