Stumped for a gift idea? Don’t know what to get your co-worker or relative? Faced with this dilemma, it’s easy to go with the old standby—a gift card. In fact, 57 percent of shoppers plan to purchase a gift card this Christmas season. But before you buy a gift card, be aware of potential pitfalls, some of which could cost you serious cash.
Know who you’re shopping for
In a recent Bank Rate survey, only 27 percent of respondents claimed that they would rather receive a gift card than an actual gift during the holiday. Twenty-one percent had no preference either way. If you do intend to give gift cards, try to make them personal. Take the time to find out where the recipient likes to shop or eat. There’s nothing worse than a vegetarian receiving a gift card to a steak house.
Additionally, try to match the dollar amount of the gift card to the average cost of merchandise in the store. According to GiftCards.com, 72 percent of gift card holders will spend more than the value of their card. Giving a $10 dollar gift card for Starbucks may be appropriate, but a $10 gift card to Macy’s may force the recipient to shell out additional money in order to make a decent purchase.
Watch out for these common gift card scams
With more than $100 billion spent on give cards annually, it’s no wonder that thieves increasingly target the gift card market. Here are some scams to look out for:
1. Tampered cards
In a common scam, crooks copy the gift card numbers and pins of cards located in gift card displays. With this information in hand, they continually check to see if one of these cards is purchased and activated. When a card is purchased, the thief then uses the gift card number online to drain the card, leaving the rightful purchaser with a useless piece of plastic.
Protect yourself by always looking to see if the gift card you purchase has been tampered with. Check to see if the PIN number has been revealed on the card. Better yet, never purchase gift cards located in card displays that are easily accessible to the public.
2. Switched cards
Sometimes dishonest cashiers switch a blank card for the gift card you just purchased. You go home with a worthless card, while the cashier walks away with your activated gift card.
Protect yourself by asking the cashier to check the balance of the card once you receive it back in your hand. Additionally, check to make sure the gift card number listed on the activation receipt actually matches the number on your gift card.
3. Resold gift cards
Everyone loves a deal, but be careful buying discounted gift cards from reseller websites, card auction sites or Ebay. Cards on these sites may be stolen or counterfeit.
Protect yourself by only buying a card from a gift card reseller with a good reputation, and preferably from a website that offers an active customer service line and money-back guarantees.
4. 3rd-party merchant
Merchants may fight over who is responsible when gift card fraud occurs. The Los Angeles Times recently recounted the story of a couple who purchased and activated a $1,000 Nordstrom gift card at a CVS store. When the recipient went to use the card, it had a zero balance. Only after a lot of hassle and much haggling between CVS and Nordstrom was the couple eventually able to get their $1,000 back.
You can protect yourself by purchasing a gift card directly from the merchant instead of purchasing at a third party merchant. Buy your Nordstrom gift card, for instance, at Nordstrom instead of CVS. This allows you to obtain quicker resolution if any problems arise.
5. Internet scammers
The Federal Trade Commission is warning about a prevalent scam, in which con artists impersonating the IRS or other government entities demand payment in iTunes, Amazon or other gift cards. If you refuse, the thieves threaten you with arrest or use other strong arm tactics.
Alternatively, the FTC warns that scammers might pose as family members or acquaintances who need help fast, asking you to place money on a gift card and share the code with them. Many retailers such as Apple and CVS are also actively warning people against the scam. You can protect yourself by not replying to that email. If you received a suspicious email from a friend or acquaintance, contact them directly by phone and let them know about the potential hack of their email account.
Remember government services and public utilities will never ask you for payment in gift cards. The FTC asks that if you get targeted by such a scam that you report it to the FTC at the ftc.gov.
Gift cards can be a great gift for the right person. Be careful, however, and protect yourself from common gift card scams so that you can enjoy a merry holiday season.
BMWK, the holidays are full of scammers trying to get over. What other ways should shoppers be careful?
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