Amid last-minute shopping, beware of gift card scams

Jason Knowles Image
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
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Amid last-minute shopping, shoppers are being warning to look out for gift card scams.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Procrastinators were out in full force Wednesday, as some were just starting their holiday shopping.

While some people are finding deep discounts, there is also a warning for people who want to buy gift cards.

Last-minute shoppers lined up at the Kohl's in Bucktown Wednesday; it's now open 24 hours until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

"Kitchen stuff for grandma and grandpa, toys for our sister," said Paola Ramirez, a shopper. "50 to 20 percent off."

The store has some deep discounts, including 60 percent off jewelry and scarves and half off some "Star Wars" merchandise.

"Here at Kohl's they have the Kuerig single cup maker for $80 plus they have a coupon here at Kohl's so it is a pretty good deal," said Audrey Johnson, a shopper. It's $65 after the coupon.

Also this year, more consumers than ever will buy gift cards. According to the National Retail Federation, they'll spend nearly $30 billion this holiday season.

But there is a Better Business Bureau warning - the Chicago office received 700 complaints in 2014 about fraudulent gift cards either purchased from open displays or online sites, which re-sell unwanted gift cards.

South Loop resident Christopher Caruso told the ABC7 I-Team about how a $1,000 airline gift card turned out to be worthless.

"After about a year I finally dug it out and decided to use it, showed up as stolen, the code was cancelled and it was gone," Caruso said.

Luckily, he ended up getting a refund from the online site where he bought it at resale from a third party at a discount. It's possible that a thief copied the numbers on the back of the card and used it before Caruso could.

"But the Southwest site said it was fraudulent activity and it was null and void," Caruso said.

At displays, double check the back of cards and make sure the codes are not exposed. Scammers will write them down and use them before you can.

If buying online, make sure it is a reputable site which offers a warranty and put it on your credit card so you can dispute the charge if needed.

And experts say the best way to protect yourself form a gift card scam is to use them as quickly as possible - this way, the if someone else has your codes, you may use it first.

For more protections against being scammed, the BBB offers these recommendations:

-Always carefully examine both the front and back of a gift card before you buy it. If you can see a PIN number, put the card back and get a different one. If a gift card looks like it could have been tampered with, don't buy that gift card.

-Always ask the store cashier to scan the gift card in front of you. This will guarantee that your card is valid when you buy it and that it reflects the balance you just charged it with. This will also protect you from crooks who exchange worthless cards for the cards you think you are buying.

-Always keep your receipt as a proof of purchase as long as there is money stored on the gift card. Since many retailers can track where the gift card was purchased, activated and used, if the card is stolen, some retailers will replace the card for you if you have your receipt.

-If possible, register your gift card at the store's website. Although not all stores offer this option, you can uncover any misuse of your gift card sooner and report it more quickly.

-Check the fine print to see if there are fees associated with the card. Some typical fees could include transaction fees or inactivity fees. In some cases, an organization may charge a service fee to issue the card or a replacement card.

-Check the terms and conditions on a gift card. If you are giving a card to a friend who wants to shop online, make sure the card can be used that way and not just in a store.

-Consider the financial condition of the retailer or bank issuing the card. If you think the store may be on shaky footing, you may want to pass on buying a card.

-Finally, never, ever give your Social Security number, date of birth or any other unneeded private information when you purchase a gift card. No reputable company will ask for this info.