Gift cards are multi-million dollar industry in U.S., and an easy target for scammers. Many people could be in for an unpleasant surprise when they want to spend the gift card they received. It could already be worthless.
Gift cards often has a magnetic strip. This strip holds information about card and PIN number (if it has one). By scanning all cards with a simple reader in the store, a scammer collects that information. He or she then just waits until the cards are activated. And before the rightful owner uses the card, the scammer runs the balance down to zero.
Unfortunately, there are few protections offered by the gift card issuers. Once the balance is gone, it is gone.
But there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.
First, carefully examine the card you want to buy or you receive. If the PIN is scratch off in the store, let them know. The PIN should always be covered. When you receive a card, do the same thing, and check the card out. Contact the issuer, if necessary.
Avoid getting cards from public racks in your store. Those aren’t protected and easily accessible by scammers.
Use gift cards as soon as possible. If it is possible to register the card online, do that. Otherwise go and spend the money as soon as you can. It gives less time for a thief to empty the card.
Get a receipt and keep it, make it go with the card. There is no reason not to hand it over with the gift card. It might give a little extra protection.