Gift card grinches stealing balances

San Antonio couple swipes Walmart card that was already drained

SAN ANTONIO – Jim and Joy Lamka bought a Walmart gift card to use at gas pumps just in case a thief might plant a skimmer to steal credit card data.

Call it irony or bad luck, but thieves found them anyway.

"We just bought it right off the rack at the store," Jim Lamka said.

But when the couple tried to use the card they purchased at the Loop 1604 and Highway 281 store, it was rejected.

"They said, 'Hmmm, it was already used,'" Lamka said.

The card had been used miles away at another Walmart store that the couple said they had never even visited. And, it had been used fast.

“We bought it in the afternoon, and it was used that evening,” Jim Lamka said. “Somehow, the bad guys got that card, the number, and were able to use it without having the card in their possession.”

Their story is a cautionary tale as we head into the holiday season.

While gift cards are convenient and popular with shoppers, the racks of plastic are targets for scammers. Crooks grab the codes from unactivated cards and wait for them to be loaded with funds. Then, the thieves use them online or clone the cards to use in person.

"Tis the season for fraud, unfortunately," said Jason Meza, of the San Antonio Better Business Bureau. "Many times, gift cards are the best, easiest, most convenient way, but scammers know this, too."

To protect yourself, consumer advocates say check for tampering. Never buy a card if the PIN is exposed. However, scammers have been known to buy new stickers and put them back on the cards to cover the PINs.

When buying store cards off a rack, pick from the middle of it. Better yet, buy from the cashier or from the retailer’s website.

Jim Lamka said Walmart is refunding the $50 taken from his card.

But this holiday season, the couple plans to be more careful, advising others to do the same.

“We won’t probably be buying off the rack anymore,” Jim Lamka said.

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