Protect yourself from gift card draining

Holiday shoppers expected to buy $27 billion in gift cards

SAN ANTONIO – Just like the Grinch, gift card scammers threaten to steal some of the joy out of holiday gift-giving by draining the money buyers load onto the cards.

The plastic cards for specific stores that you buy right off the rack can be easy targets for criminals.

"Scammers copy the gift card codes and then they scratch off the strip on the back of the card to steal the PIN," said Consumer Reports money editor Tobie Stanger. "Then, once you load the money onto the card, they can steal from you."

When you buy a gift card, check the packaging for tampering. Make sure the protective stickers or coating are intact. Never buy a card if its PIN is revealed. But scammers have been known to buy the PIN cover stickers on the Internet and simply put them back on the cards.

To help reduce your chance of being defrauded, buy cards from the center of the stack, or better yet, from the cashier.

Consumer Reports said a better option than store cards are re-loadable prepaid cards from a credit card company like VISA or American Express. They will limit your liability to $50, or sometimes $0 if you report the theft within two days.  

E-gift cards are another option.

You can buy and send them by text, email or social media. Because you'll be revealing information, such as your credit card number and the recipient's email address, Consumer Reports advises you buy E-gift cards only from trusted merchants. 

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