As the holidays get closer, you may plan on buying gift cards for friends and family members, but beware! There is a gift card scam out there that fraudsters are using to dupe you out of money.
The gift cards you see in stores usually don’t have any dollar value attached to them. The cash value is added when the card is activated by the sales clerk scanning the barcode on the back of the card.
The gift card scam uses fake barcodes.
In the gift card scam, the thieves print and place their own barcode over the real barcode. When the barcode is scanned at check out, the cash value is actually added to the scammer’s card rather than the one you purchase.
Another way crooks are stealing gift cards is by removing the gift card from its package and sneaking in a used gift card in its place. So, when you go to use the card, you find that there isn't a remaining balance on it.
U.S. gift card sales are in the billions.
Gift card fraud has been going on almost since gift cards were invented. Why? Because the gift card industry is a big one. In 2021, the U.S. gift card market was estimated at over $313 billion, according to a study by ReportLinker.
With the season of gift-giving around the corner, local police departments are warning consumers to look out for fake barcodes on the gift cards they purchase. Some people have, unfortunately, already been victims of the crime.
“I even showed them that the giftcard directly linked to the store home page, and it came with a barcode to scan at the register (which is what the instructions said to redeem it). They told me "No, this is a scam giftcard" So I left all my groceries at the service desk,” tweeted one gift card scam victim.
“Why do people make life miserable, mf I wanted to get a gift card for a friend and I realized I bought a scam gift, someone put a sticker on it and it basically transacts money to their account with a fake barcode. Man I'm dumb but people are miserable,” tweeted another victim.
Here's how to protect yourself from falling victim to the gift card barcode scam.
The best thing you can do is to carefully examine the gift card and its packaging before you purchase it. Run your finger over the barcode. If the scammers placed their own barcode onto the card, the fake barcode will seem slightly raised.
You should also ask the store clerk to check the serial number that comes up when they scan the card to make sure it matches the code on the card.
To ensure the gift card hasn’t been swapped out for a used card, check the packaging to see if there are any slits on the sides or other damage.