My wife and I had another idyllic Christmas this year. There was lots of family, food and, of course, gifts. I am notoriously hard to buy for but my wife knows that I always have a use for gift cards - especially Best Buy gift cards. So this year was not different, she picked up a gift card at our local grocery store and thought no more about it. That is until I tried to remove the card from the packaging only to find that there was no card inside! She was able to activate the card at the store - all the while unknowing that there was no gift card to redeem. Unfortunately, we were victims of Gift Card Fraud.
I had never heard of this crime until I started searching for reasons why I would possess a gift card package that did not actually contain a gift card. It seems that Gift Card fraud is a very real thing. Usually it is a little more high-tech because the cards are exposed and the theft must remove the scratch-off pin covering and then replace the cover with a new one - apparently you can easily buy these scratch-off pads on the Internet. In the case of our card, Best Buy has created an opportunity for thieves with their new anti-theft packaging.
The new packaging is meant to make it harder for a thief to get access to the card's pin number by hiding the card inside a cardboard package. Instead, all the criminal has to do is snap the card off (there is even a nice fold line already in the package) the plastic blank that holds the authorization bar-code and place the package back onto the shelf. Then, you or I come along, place the card in our shopping basket and authorize the card at the checkout.
As you can see, it is possible to get the card out of the package without leaving much of a trace that something is wrong... The clerk in the store ripped the package proving to my wife that there was a card inside. Our thief was much better at concealing his work - he even re-glued the "Break Away" card back into the package.
After stealing the gift card, all the thief has to do is wait. They use the handy Best Buy online balance checker to see when the card it authorized and then they simply use the card or redeem it for cash. Sneaky!
In our case, the store was skeptical but they had no choice but to replace the card. These cards are very difficult to remove from the packaging without showing signs of tampering but the package on our card was perfectly intact - and the card was gone. If they had refused our claim, we did another option: we could have (and would have) challenged the purchase with the credit card company. (Luckily, the card was purchased on a credit card)
So, how do you prevent this from happening to you? Here are a few things to look for: 1) If you can, buy gift cards online directly from the company. This will protect you from fraud and then you can deal directly with the merchant. Best Buy could not help us and told us to take it up with the store where we bought it. 2) If you must buy a gift card in a store, try to shop in stores where the gift cards are kept away from public handling. 3) Try to avoid these new anti-theft packaged cards - always see the card before you pay for it! 4) In all cases, carefully examine the gift card and its packaging. Look to make sure that the card is indeed in the packaging, and that the pin number scratch-off strip looks to be original. 5) Use a credit card to buy gift cards - this way, if there are any problems, you can challenge the purchase - after all, you did not get what you paid for!