Police warn of gift card scams victimizing holiday shoppers

Dec 22, 2023, 10:53 PM | Updated: 10:56 pm

TAYLORSVILLE — Police are warning of a huge scam that holiday shoppers are falling victim to and potentially passing on the problem to the people they’re buying gifts for.

Scammers are manipulating gift cards, making it so that the money loaded on them is going straight to the thieves. By the time shoppers realize the money is gone, it’s often too late to trace it back.

In Taylorsville Friday, shoppers rushed into Walmart and Target, picking up last-minute Christmas gifts. Aaliyah Topete walked out with two other women, shopping carts loaded with toys. They were gifts for the family grandkids.

But Aaliyah knows that the best gifts are sometimes the smallest ones.

“It’s really simple and easy just to get a gift card,” she said.

In fact, Aaliyah had asked her dad for a gift card to Ulta.

Scammers are cashing in on some of those sales, leaving unsuspecting gift-givers like her father potentially falling victim.

At the Taylorsville Police Department, Detective Steve Jensen held up a gift card from a local Target and explained that it had been tampered with. The card had been re-glued onto the packaging.

An example of one of the gift cards glued back together and placed back on the shelve.

An example of one of the gift cards glued back together and placed back on the shelve. (KSL TV)

He described how thieves will steal cards, carefully open them, write down the code, reseal them, then restock cards on store shelves.

“They’ll keep spreadsheets. They’re using software now, these bots that will alert them to when any funds are loaded,” Jensen said.

As soon as someone loads the card, scammers will drain it. If the person gives it as a gift, it’s likely that the gift giver and recipient will have no idea until the recipient tries to use the card.

“You’re at the grocery store, or you’re going to pay with a gift card at dinner and come back to find out there’s insufficient funds,” Jensen said.

Another gift card scam tactic: Creating a fake barcode that goes back to the scammer.

“Individuals will put new stickers onto these gift cards, and the barcode doesn’t match the one that’s inside the package,” Jensen said.

The money is never even loaded onto the card.

“When you activate your card after it’s been hung back up, it’s going to go right to their card. You have no idea,” he said.

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With an average gift card purchase of $300, Jensen urged shoppers to stay vigilant. While any gift card can be tampered with, he said that Vanilla Visa gift cards are especially vulnerable.

“When you buy that physical card, it is risky,” he said. “But if you do, you got to make sure you’re inspecting it, make sure the sides are all evenly put together and they’re not glued.”

He said shoppers need to make sure there are no stickers over the barcode as well.

“If you can, try to go through the store and ask them to get you a fresh card out of the back,” he said. “I know Target assists people with this a lot.”

Or better yet, he said, don’t buy a physical gift card at all. Jensen suggested purchasing a digital gift card online.

Aaliyah is hoping that her dad hasn’t shopped for her yet.

“That’s his hard-earned money, and also it is drained? That will be very sad!” She said.

She thinks a tangible gift might be better to ask for.

“Probably just go in stores more,” Aaliyah said. “Just can’t really depend on the card anymore, it seems like.”

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Police warn of gift card scams victimizing holiday shoppers