Marcus Lawrence | 

How Scammers Are Draining Gift Cards Before You Even Buy Them

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When you don’t know what you want to buy, a gift card is an easy gift choice. Now, Target is one of our favorite places to find gift card deals — thanks to their 5% RedCard discount — but if you’re buying in-store, you’re gonna want to know about a scam that’s hitting shoppers.

If you are planning on buying a physical gift card anytime soon, at any place that has a “gift card mall”, listen up. We’ll tell you all about this “card draining” scam and how to avoid it. 

Download the KCL app to constantly be in the know about money-saving (and scam-avoiding) tips. 

Scammers are stealing gift cards and writing down their info — waiting for people to load them with value.

various themed target gift cards on display in store near shopping cart

If you’ve ever bought a physical gift card from a store, you most likely grabbed it from a “gift card mall”-type display, where gift cards from a number of different stores are available for purchase. 

These cards don’t have any value until they’re purchased, so you’d think there’s no reason to steal them. But scammers are playing the long game; they’re grabbing gobs of these gift cards, writing down their card numbers and PINs, and then putting them back on the shelves. 

Then, an unsuspecting customer buys the gift card, and the thief spends the loaded amount — up to $500 per card! — before the buyer can. 

Police are warning that “card draining” has ramped up around the holiday season.

A woman standing at Target checkout with a basket on the conveyer belt and a cashier scanning her items.

The Better Business Bureau has reported a 50% increase in gift card scams in 2023. Authorities from California to Pennsylvania have uncovered card-draining schemes, and tell shoppers to be on guard.

Scammers focus on national retailers with lots of different kinds of products — including Target, Amazon, and Apple. 

In an interview with the Daily Mail, a Target shopper shared that she sent her daughter’s friend a $200 gift card for a baby shower, but when the recipient got the gift card, it carried a zero balance. 

The woman contacted Target corporate headquarters, and after two months, was able to recover her $200. But most shoppers who deal with this aren’t so lucky. 

RELATED: How to Avoid Scams from Amazon Third-Party Sellers

To avoid the card-draining scam, be aware of the signs of tampering — or just buy online.

A person's hand holding an iPhone displaying the Raise app in front of a rack of gift cards.

Just because the card-draining scam seems to be on the rise, it doesn’t mean you’re helpless to buy a compromised card. Here are some things you can do to prevent this theft:

Know the Signs

When buying a physical gift card in-store, check it for any signs of tampering, like scratches or unusual marks, especially near the barcode or PIN area. Make sure the card is properly sealed, and the PIN or activation code is covered by the layer of foil and hasn't been scratched off or tampered with.

Keep Your Receipt

Always keep the store receipt. If the card turns out to be compromised, you'll need it for a refund or to report the issue.

If you find a tampered card, report it immediately to the store and the gift card company. Ask to freeze the funds and request a refund.

Buy Gift Cards Online

One of the best ways to avoid this scam is to not buy gift cards in-store. You can buy physical gift cards online — but you’ll still want to make sure the cards you receive haven’t been tampered at all. 

Best of all, though, you can buy digital gift cards online. You can print out the card info and put it in a card, or have the digital gift card sent directly to the recipient. That way, there’s no possibility that a scammer could get your card’s info. 

That said, make sure you're on a reputable site or the retailer's official website. We love buying discounted gift cards from Raise — a legit site. (We've got plenty more gift card hacks where that came from.)

Verify Your Gift Card Balance

Once you receive or give a gift card, check the balance right away. This can be done on the retailer's website or by calling a customer service number. That way you know right away if someone has accessed your card’s value.

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