Consumer Reports: Protecting gift cards from thieves

In past years, holiday gift card purchases have topped $27 billion.

But Consumer Reports says beware: thieves have figured out a way to steal the money you put on gift cards.

Here are some important tips to protect you and the cards you buy.

What's on your holiday wish list? If you said gift cards, you're not alone. About 6 in 10 people prefer to shop for themselves with a gift card.

But Consumer Reports says those physical cards for specific stores and vendors that you buy off a rack can be an easy mark for criminals.

"Scammers copy the gift card codes and then they scratch off the strip on the back of the card to steal the PIN and then once you load money into the card, they can steal from you," said Consumer Reports Money Editor Tobie Stanger.

Consumer Reports says always check the packaging of any gift card for physical tampering. Make sure the protective stickers or coating are intact. And never buy any card if its PIN is revealed.

"Consumer Reports thinks a more attractive option is to get a reloadable, prepaid card from a charge card or credit card company like Visa or American Express," Stanger said. "These issuers will limit your liability to $50 and sometimes zero if you report the theft within two days."

An additional benefit of those cards? They're more widely accepted as a form of payment.

And what about e-gift cards, the kind you purchase and send by text, email or on social media. They're convenient and fast, but are they safe?

"First of all, make sure you're sending the e-gift card to the right person," Stanger said. "Before you send it, depending on where you're sending it, get the right email address, phone number or social media account.

Since you'll be revealing personal information about yourself and the recipient like email addresses and credit card numbers, buy e-gift cards only from trusted merchants.

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