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Be aware of gift card scams

Summer Stephan

San Diego District Attorney

You’ve likely seen the rows and rows of colorful gift cards at the supermarket. There’s practically one for every retailer and the ability to purchase a gift card while grocery shopping is the epitome of convenience.

But as with anything, there is a dark side to having gift cards hanging within easy reach of fingertips and scammers have found a way to exploit the convenience through card skimming or card swapping. Before you buy that graduation or wedding gift card, keep reading.

Card skimming

For this scam, the fraudster has already copied the unique gift card barcode number and PIN from the gift card. When an unsuspecting consumer buys and activates that gift card, the fraudster, who already has the barcode number and PIN, uses those funds before the legitimate consumer makes a purchase or the fraudster siphons the funds from the card.

Tip: Make sure the PIN number on the card you purchase has not yet been scratched off.

Card swapping

Card swapping involves a scammer stealing a stack of physical cards from the retail store outlet and then replacing the original barcode with a counterfeit barcode sticker. The scammer will then return the cards to the store and re-hang them on the rack. When a consumer purchases and loads one of the cards with cash, the money goes directly into the fraudster’s bank account rather than the gift card. When the consumer tries to use the gift card, the balance is $0.

The consumer will have no idea the funds they loaded were stolen until they attempt to use the card. The business will show the funds were loaded on the card but be unaware it was actually loaded to a counterfeit account.

Tip: When buying a gift card, opt for the ones that are kept under lock and key by the retailer.

Always check that the barcode is original and does not appear to be tampered with.

There should not be a sticker on top of the original barcode.

The DA’s Consumer Protection Unit is composed of Deputy District Attorneys, Investigators and Paralegals dedicated to protecting consumers and law-abiding businesses from fraudulent or unfair business practices. To report a consumer complaint, you can call 619-531-3507 or email [email protected].

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public in order to keep you safe. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.

 

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