Gift cards have been the most popular type of gift for more than a decade, as we recently reported in “Top 11 Gift Cards to Give for the 2017 Holidays.” But they aren’t a perfect present.
Consumer advocates warn shoppers that gift cards have flaws that can make them sensitive to theft. But a little consumer safety can help ensure your gift recipients enjoy spending those gift cards without issue.
Gift cards are attractive to thieves because they can be spent similarly to cash, or sold for cash. Consumer advocates such as Consumer Reports have detailed the way thieves steal the value of gift cards.
Be mindful of where you buy gift cards
David Farquhar, a unit chief within the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, tells Consumer Reports that it’s best to buy a gift card online directly from the company that issues the card. That would be the retailer or restaurant chain on the card, for example.
Criminals would not be able to physically access such gift cards prior to purchase, as they might if you bought a gift card in a store.
If you buy a gift card at a store owned by a separate company, try to avoid cards on racks that are easily accessible. A thief might be able to write down the gift card numbers, put it back on the rack and manage to redeem the card before the rightful future owner gets the card.
If you are buying a discounted gift card, use a marketplace that offers a guarantee. For example, Cardpool.com and Raise.com offer a one-year guarantee. I use Raise and have always been able to get all my money back when it turned out that a gift card wasn’t worth as much as I paid for it when I tried to redeem it.
Understand gift card security features
Gift cards generally have PINs, which serve as security features. It might be possible for you to change the PIN, and Consumer Reports suggests trying to do so as soon as you buy a card.
If you are buying a gift card as a gift, give the recipient the new PIN and educate him or her about why you changed it.
If a hacker steals gift card funds, call the card issuer to ask for a reimbursement.
This happened to my mom last year. She bought a card from a pet store chain for my dog and mailed it to me. It never arrived, but she was able to go back to the store and get a replacement card.
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