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How to outsmart criminals and protect yourself from fraud this winter holiday shopping season

October 20, 2023

(BPT) - By Martha Weaver, Retail Gift Card Association Fraud Committee Chair

It’s unfortunate, but criminals are smart and getting more sophisticated every day. With so much technology and artificial intelligence (AI) readily available, they constantly find cunning ways to prey on honest, hard-working people. Criminals use different scams to steal money in clever ways, and many use methods that involve debit and credit cards, bank accounts and gift cards.

People love gift cards, which have been the top requested gift in the U.S. for nearly two decades according to the National Retail Federation. And this holiday shopping season, gift cards will be a go-to for millions of people with positive intentions. But just like everyday people love giving, receiving and using gift cards, unfortunately so do criminals.

I am a fraud expert with the Retail Gift Card Association (RGCA), a nonprofit trade organization that represents the gift card industry. We have more than 100 of the world’s top brands on our roster, and our mission is to promote positive gift card experiences among shoppers — which includes working with law enforcement to go after criminals and providing shoppers like you with tools that help you spot and avoid fraud, protect yourself and report the crimes.

Here are our top gift card safety tips:

  1. Gift cards can only be used at the company on the card. If you get asked to send money or pay for another service with a gift card, STOP and contact law enforcement, even if the fraudster tells you not to talk to anyone or a loved one is in trouble. No real government agency or business will ever reach out and ask you to pay them with gift cards — and you can’t pay taxes or bail money with gift cards.
  2. Check gift card packaging at the store and make sure the gift card hasn’t been tampered with. Look for things like ripped or torn packaging or missing scratch-off material over the top of the PIN number. If something doesn’t look right, pick another card and show the questionable card to a store associate.
  3. When you buy a gift card, keep your activation receipt as proof of your purchase. This will help make sure that, even if a criminal does get ahold of your card or card information, you can get your money back.
  4. Only buy gift cards from trusted sources. If you’re offered a deal that’s too good to be true, like a big discount on a gift card, it’s likely a scam or you’re getting a fraudulent card.
  5. Store your gift cards securely and don’t share gift card numbers or PINs with people you don’t know.

If you think you have been scammed or see fraud happening, contact your local law enforcement or the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or via this toll-free number: 1-877-FTC-HELP. You can also report IRS impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, visit their website or call 800-366-4484.

More information about how to have amazing gift card experiences is available at GiftCardSafety.org. You can learn more about the gift card industry at www.thergca.org.

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