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Avoid the disappointment of buying a gift card that had the balance drained

12 Scams of Christmas
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Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-15 07:13:44-05

BALTIMORE — Whether you’re in a pinch or need something for the person who has everything, gift cards can be a good choice until you discover the balance is gone.

“When I go to a store and buy a gift card, somebody before me came and was able to scratch off the back, get the PIN number,” said Angie Barnett, president & CEO with the Better Business Bureau serving greater Maryland.

After the card is activated, scam artists quickly drain the balance.

“Please, buy your gift cards by getting them behind the counter, having somebody actually give it to you. Save those receipts that provide proof that you acquired it,” Barnett recommended.

If you have a gift card sitting around, you may consider reselling it for some extra holiday cash. Buyers can then get a discount on the traded-in gift card value, but shoppers have reported issues with the balance to the BBB.

“If I buy it from a reseller, frequently, whether intentional or unintentional, the balance may not be there that I actually purchased. There are no guarantees, there’s no protection there,” Barnett said.

Instead of reselling gift cards, Barnett recommends regifting unused cards.

And then there are scammers who seek out gift cards as a form of payment.

“For something like you’re overdue on your utilities, we’re going to shut it off today,” said Barnett.

Karen Trotter fell victim while trying to buy tickets to a wrestling match for her son.

“So he has his own wheelchair, so I said, I just need an area for him to sit in where somebody can sit with him,” said Trotter.

She googled Ticketmaster and thought she was speaking with a representative. He instructed her to go to her local grocery store, buy $250 in eBay gift cards, then tell him the card numbers.

“He said, well, they are not any good. I said what are you telling me, I just purchased the card. And he said, well, you need to go to Walgreens. How far is Walgreens from you?” Trotter recalled.

That’s when she knew she’d been scammed, but the money couldn’t be recovered.

This holiday season, consumers should remember that gift cards are for gifts only. Don't use them to pay for anything, don’t share the PIN number with anyone, and save your receipt.

If someone asks you to pay with a gift card, hang up the phone, delete the text, and don’t engage.