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The Gift of Gift Cards: Make Sure They’re Legit

Retired Community Manager

The Gift of Gift Cards: Make Sure They’re Legit

Gift cards have become one of Americans’ favorite ways to mark birthdays and holidays. A new survey by AARP reveals that 70% of U.S. adults plan to purchase gift cards as presents this holiday season. But be forewarned of potential scams.


How It Works

Scammers have come up with novel ways to drain the value of gift cards, or to convince us to buy them at a discount.


What You Should Know

  • A common trick is for thieves to compromise gift cards hanging on store racks. Often, they expose the PIN on the back and then cover it back up with easy-to-obtain replacement stickers. When someone buys and loads a compromised card, the scammer is notified and drains the value from the card. 
  • Fraudsters also lurk on resale or auction websites, ostensibly offering items at an attractive discount. Once they get you interested in buying, they’ll ask you to pay with a gift card. As soon as they get the card number and PIN from you, they vanish, and so does the money on the card.
  • Scammers send emails or text messages, supposedly from a familiar store or organization, saying you’ve won a gift card. To claim it, you just need to provide contact information, click through to a website or answer a few survey questions. Their goal may be to unleash malicious software on your device to access sensitive information, or to use your data for identity theft or to sell to marketers.

What You Should Do

  • Examine gift cards carefully for signs of tampering before you buy them. Keep the activation receipt with the gift card. You can also register your card with the retailer if the option is offered. This makes it easier to track and quickly report any issues. 
  • Be wary of cards hanging on racks that are easily accessible. See if you can purchase gift cards that are protected behind the counter, or buy them online directly from the retailer.
  • Delete any unsolicited email or text message offering you a gift card, without responding. And never give your personal information to anyone in exchange for a gift card.
  • Buy gift cards directly from the businesses where they can be used. If you do go through an auction site or other secondary market, check reviews, and only buy from reputable resellers.
Retired Community Manager

If you spot a scam like any of these, or if you or a loved one has fallen victim, our AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline is here for you. Call to talk to staff and trained volunteer fraud fighters at 1‑877‑908‑3360.

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