Avoid Gift Card Rip-Offs This Holiday Season

If you're buying or receiving a gift card, chances are hackers are ready to scam you. Thankfully, there are things you can do to protect yourself.

Gift cards are the most requested holiday gift, but you could end up getting a card with a zero balance, no matter how much money the giver spent.

These gift card scams are all too common. Hackers sift through racks of gift cards for sale at retailers, copy down or take pictures of the numbers, scratch off the security code strip to get the number, replace the strip and then use special software to get an alert when a card is activated.

The hackers thus create a new card with your card's information, using it themselves or selling it off.

Patricia Spedding was one of the victims of this elaborate scam.

She'd received a $100 Visa gift card as a present from her daughter. One night on a trip to Maui, however, she pulled out the card to pay for dinner, only for the waitress to tell her it had no money on it.

"It was really embarrassing," Spedding said, "because it feels like it was my fault or something, when it wasn't."

When Spedding called the number on the back of the card, she was told that it had already been used.

Jill Gonzalez, who works with personal finance website Wallet Hub, said the hackers know just when to strike to use your cash.

"Since the fraudster knows right away when you activate the funds, they're on the move," she said.

Thankfully for Spedding, the NBC4 I-Team stepped in and she was able to receive a new gift card from Visa right away. In a statement, the company apologized and said it does all it can "to ensure the cards function properly."

However, if you don't want to end up in a similar predicament, there are steps you can take:

• If it looks like the packaging for a gift card has been tampered with, don't buy it.

• Avoid buying cards from third-party sellers on websites like eBay.

• Your safest bet is to buy electronic gift cards online - directly from a retailer - and email them to the recipient.

• If you receive a gift card, don't activate it until you're ready to use it.

• Avoid Gift Card Rip-Offs This Holiday Season

With these tips, you just might prevent yourself - and the gift card recipient - from getting ripped off.

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