NEW YORK (WABC) -- Gift cards have been the most popular holiday gift for the past 14 years in a row -- and given supply chain delays, their popularity is expected to rise.
What's also skyrocketing are gift card scams. Since 2018 they have cost consumers half a billion dollars.
7 On Your Side has the simple safeguards to take before you shop.
No matter where you buy a gift card, one of the most important things to do before purchasing is to make sure they aren't tampered with and make sure nothing is scratched off the back.
Before checking out, always check the PIN number is still covered with original scratch-off coating -- not a removable sticker. Scammers can easily steal 4 digit PINs and capture card numbers and then wait until you put money onto a card and drain it online.
Next look at the bar code very closely, criminals were able to doctor up Macy's gift cards by sticking phony bar codes over the card codes and putting them back on the rack. The NYPD said unsuspecting customers loading the cards up with money wound up putting cash right onto the criminals' card instead and giving worthless cards as gifts.
Make sure to select cards from the middle of the peg, behind the register, or in tamper-proof packaging.
Always get a receipt and make sure it matches the gift card in your hand, is properly activated and then include the receipt when gifting the card-- which verifies the purchase in case it is lost or stolen.
If you're looking to exchange or buy a discount gift card, beware of lookalike websites claiming to offer deep discounts, they could be designed to steal your money and swipe your credit card info at the same time.
Make sure to stick with established gift card resellers that provide a guarantee.
Also be on the lookout for fake card activation or customer service websites and phone numbers.
Scammers have created lookalike websites which bounce to the top of search engine results - one mom paid thousands to scammers on a fake apple website believing she was funding iTunes cards for her kids.
Many gift cards come with hefty activation fees, it was almost $4 to activate a $25 Visa gift card -- not great bang for your buck.
A good way to save on those activation feeds is to buy the gift card directly from the retailer.
Dunkin, Starbucks, gas outlets, Apple and big department stores won't charge you extra for buying their store gift cards, and some banks like TD sells Visa gift cards with no fees attached.
And just make sure you use them before you lose them -- last year, according to Gift Card Retail Association, $3 billion in gifts cards went unspent.
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