Buying a gift card as a gift is both an easy way to purchase a gift for someone and a good way to make sure that the gift is something that the receiver of the gift can actually use and enjoy.  It definitely is a win-win situation and particularly during the Coronavirus pandemic, buying gift cards as holiday gifts reduces the exposure you have to the Coronavirus if you shopping in a brick and mortar store as you will spend less time in the store.  However, scammers are always ready to take any good thing and turn it into a scam. The most common gift card scam involves scammers going to racks of gift cards in stores and using handheld scanners that are easy to obtain, read the code on the strip of the card and the number on the front.  They then put the card back in the display and periodically check with the retailer by calling its 800 number to find out whether the card has been activated and what the balance is on the card.  Once they have this information they either create a counterfeit card using the information they have stolen or order material online without having the actual card in hand.

In some instances, the scammers don’t even bother to scan the barcode, but rather use what is called a brute force attack by using software that will try out huge numbers of possible bar code numbers and PINs to see if any of them match legitimately issued gift cards.  They strike gold when they find one or more that match legitimate cards.

Another gift card scam occurs when scammers place a sticker with the barcode of a a gift card that the scammers possess over the actual barcode of the gift card in the rack.  Thus when the card is taken by the gift card purchaser to the checkout counter to have the card activated, the funds used to purchase the gift card are credited to the card of the scammer.  It is not until the gift card purchaser tries to use his or her card that it is discovered that there are no funds credited to the card.

Some retailers, in an effort to reduce gift card fraud put a PIN on the gift card so that if the card is used online, the user must have access to the PIN which is generally covered and must have the covering material scratched off in order to be visible.  Unfortunately, many purchasers of gift cards are not aware of this so they don’t even notice that the PIN on the card that they are purchasing has already had the covering material scratched off by the scammer who has recorded the PIN.

Finally, you may be tempted to buy a gift card at a discounted rate at one of many online sites that enable people to sell their unwanted gift cards from particular retailers.  While there are many legitimate sites that will allow you to do this, it is not a good idea to buy a card from these sites because the card you buy may have been stolen or the value of the card may already have been used.


When buying a gift card, only purchase cards from behind the customer service desk and if the card is preloaded, always ask for the card to be scanned to show that it is still fully valued.  This avoids all of the problems of tampering with the card before it is sold.

Always inspect the card carefully to make sure that the barcode has not been tampered with in any fashion and that the PIN is still covered.

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

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