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BBB Tip of the Week: Take these precautions when buying, using gift cards

By Kirstin Davis Marketplace Director

Gift cards are a quick and convenient gift-giving solution. Whether you’re pressed for time or the recipient is hard to shop for, a gift card is sure to make the perfect gift.

According to the National Retail Federation, gift-card spending is expected to reach $27.6 billion this holiday season, with gift-card purchasers planning to buy an average of four cards worth roughly $45 each. According to the survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, 59 percent of survey respondents said they will be purchasing gift cards for their loved ones, while 61 percent of respondents will be asking for a gift card as a gift this year.

Women are more likely than men to purchase a gift card for their loved ones, with 57 percent of men and 62 percent of women planning to buy a gift card. Gift cards are a popular item to give during the holidays, and scammers know this. Scammers use multiple tactics to steal money from gift cards without the cardholder even knowing.

Better Business Bureau offers the following tips when purchasing a gift card this season:

Examine the gift card. Before purchasing a gift card, be sure to give it a thorough look to make sure the PIN number isn’t exposed or the packaging hasn’t been tampered with. If anything looks suspicious, it’s best to grab a new one. Scammers are known to remove gift cards from the store rack and record the numbers associated with that card. They put the card back on the rack and wait until a customer purchases it. Once the customer buys the card, the scammer uses the number online and wipes the gift card clean before the customer has a chance to use it. Scammers are impatient and will usually put the gift card toward the front of the rack, so it’s best to grab a card from the back.

Do your research. It’s best to double-check the terms and conditions, the expiration date or any fees tied to the gift card before you decide to purchase it. Some stores charge service or setup fees, or limit the gift card to in-store purchases only, meaning you can’t use it online.

Register your gift card. If the retailer allows the option to register your gift card, take full advantage. Registering your gift card makes it easier to keep track of any misuse, that way you can report it sooner and potentially end up saving the money that is stored on the card.

Treat it like cash. If you lose your gift card or someone steals it, it’s best to report it to the issuer immediately. Some issuers may not allow you to recover any of the money, and some will, for a fee. You may need to show proof of purchase and the ID number on the card.

Keep your information private. No reputable business would ask you for personal information when purchasing a gift card. If they do, take that as a big red flag and purchase one elsewhere.

For more information on holiday shopping and charitable donations visit BBB’s Holiday Helper Guide.

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