NBC 33 Safety Alert: Use Caution when buying Gift Cards

POSTED: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 - 11:40am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 11:59pm

"For me, Christmas, holidays, birthdays...I go with gift cards all the way," says one shopper. The popularity of gift cards is growing, but unfortunately so are the risks of using them. "I bought something with a gift card, and I was trying to return it. And I returned it, and they said that it would go back on my card in a week, a week to come back and it never came back," said another shopper we talked to.

And losing money due to a refund is just one of the risks. Officials say crooks have learned how to exploit this popular form of gift giving through tampering, trickery and outright theft. "Holiday season, you can bet your bottom dollar that gift cards are going to be targeted areas because they know people are buying them in mass quantities," says Sonya Perez with the Miami-Dade Consumer Services Department.

One known tactic for thieves is to scratch off the pin number on the back of the card at the store. They write down the information and put the card back. The thief then calls the number on the card every couple of days to see if it's been activated. When it has, they swoop in to make a purchase and leave you, the consumer, with nothing. Perez warns, "Where there's money to be had, there's money to be stolen."

Of course it is important to remember that all gift cards are not bad. "They're the perfect gift because most people don't know what to buy. They have no idea what to buy," says Brandsmart's Ariel Vieyto. Vieyto says his store checks to make sure the card hasn't been tampered with before every transaction.

And as long as the store does its part and the consumers do theirs, the convenience of gift cards definitely outweighs the risk. So what can you do to make sure you're getting the most value on your gift cards and that crooks aren't jeopardizing your holiday? First, always have your card scanned after buying it to make sure it was properly activated. Sometimes the clerk may forget to activate the card and you're left with no balance.

Second, keep your receipt as proof of purchase. And third, check to make sure your card hasn't been tampered with and that the pin number on the back hasn't been scratched off.