Don't be confused by what may look like gift cards

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- They may look like gift cards on your local store shelves, but they're not.

One south suburban man says he was given what he thought was a gift card but when he wanted to use it, he was told he had to hand over his social security number.

If you're getting someone a gift card from store shelves, you'll also want to know more about another type of card that's actually not a gift card.

Under federal law, many of these pre-paid debit cards actually require users to verify their identity and give up sensitive, personal information.

"It was a gift," said Michael Hickey.

When Michael Hickey went to activate a gifted Green Dot card, he was baffled as to why the instructions told him to enter a birthdate, social security number and more.

"It was at that point that I said, 'hey, let's stop right now,'" said Hickey.

What he didn't know was that it was actually not a gift card. It's written on the lower area of the package, which includes a reloadable, pre-paid debit card.

But it can also be found in the general area of the gift cards on department and drug store shelves.

"Why must I give you this on your automated screen before I can advance to getting the activation," said Hickey.

When Hickey said he couldn't get an answer from Green Dot, he filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General's office and called the I-Team.

Green Dot said the card may be confused for a gift card but it's really a virtual bank.

Green Dot also said, "Green Dot Reloadable Prepaid Debit Cards are regulated like bank accounts, issued in a cardholder's name, and held with Green Dot Bank, member FDIC. Therefore, in order to register your card, all the information that a traditional brick and mortar bank would require is the same." And Green Dot said it has"... the same robust systems and security procedures as all other regulated banks..."

But institutional security measures are coming under question, in the wake of the massive Equifax breach.

"Whatever business you are in, you are probably susceptible to being hacked," said Hickey.

Green Dot said it's not advertised but that users can still swipe the card at stores without registering, but users would not get the full benefits like ATM abilities, online shopping and paycheck deposits so they encourage registration.

After we got involved, and with the help of the Attorney General's office, Hickey received a letter from Green Dot. Then the company sent him a check for $125, the value on that card.

"I don't think they need to get my number to get what they already have in their pocket," said Hickey.

The card, of course, was deactivated since Hickey has gotten a refund.

Even though he found it to be a hassle, it is important to point out that the pre-paid debit card industry is booming for people who may not qualify for a traditional checking account.

Green Dot said it has more than 5.1 million active users right now.
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