Amarillo, TX - With many people finishing their holiday shopping officials are seeing an increase in gift card and fraudulent website scams.
CEO of the Better Business Bureau, Janna Kiehl, said thieves are draining money from gift cards. They hit the gift card racks of large retailers and secretly write down, electronically scan, or take pictures of the numbers on the back of the cards. They then check online or call the toll-free number listed on the card to see if someone has bought the card and activated it. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds, so when the person who received the card tries to use it, the money is gone.
Kiehl suggests buying gift cards from behind the counter at reputable sources, and making sure the card has not been tampered with such as an exposed PIN. She said have the cashier scan the card to ensure it has the correct balance, and always keeping your receipt as proof of purchase until the card's value has been exhausted. Shoppers should not wait extended periods of time after receiving the card to use it, because if the card has been scammed it may drain before the rightful owner can use it.
"We really encourage people to spend their gift cards as soon as possible," Kiehl said. "Have the recipient spend them right away because you want to make sure that money is still on that card."
Another way to prevent buying a scammed gift card is to buy them online directly from the retailer's website. Gift cards should never be bought from auction sites even if it looks like a great deal, because the cards may be stolen, counterfeit, or already drained.
Shoppers should also be careful not to shop at a copycat website of well-known retailers or websites offering popular, or sold out merchandise at a discount. Scammers often create these websites and send an out emails with a link to the site. The emails appear to come from a legitimate company, with a picture of the real website; however the link included sends the viewer to a phony website where they shop. When they check out the scammer collects all personal information and the shopper does not receive their purchase.
To avoid these websites do research before shopping. Search the "vendor name + scam" and see what comes up during a web search.
Kiehl said shoppers should type a store's URL directly into their browser and not to click on a link from an email or social media site unless there is no doubt the message is from the legitimate business.
"Consumers want to make sure they type in the URL of the store that they want to shop at, in other words don't click on a link that's been sent to you in an email or don't click on a search result," Kiehl said. "Actually know that website and type it into the URL this way you know you're going to an authentic website."
The main way to ensure the website is real is to pay attention to the payment page. When going to check out look for "http" at the beginning of the website address. If the website reads "https" the website is safe. The "s" stands for "secure," meaning the website has been verified and is legitimate. If the "s" is not in the address the website is a scam.
If a scam is discovered Kiehl suggest reporting any scams to the BBB.