Gift Cards With Zero Balance After Purchase

The LaSalle Police Service is issuing a public advisory to raise awareness about gift card scams resulting in depleted balances shortly after purchase. 

In these types of scams, a person attends a retail location and selects a gift card from the gift card display.  They bring it to the register where they pay for the value of the card and it is activated by the clerk.  Most of the time there is no issue but sometimes the card has already been compromised by a criminal and the moment the card is activated with the funds at the time of purchase, the criminal drains the gift card online or they are automatically deposited into the scammers account.

Scammers often use various tactics to steal gift card balances before they are purchased. You’ll only know that your gift card balance has been stolen when your gift card payments are declined or you check the balance on the card.

Common methods:

  1. Tampering with Packaging: Scammers may steal several gift cards from the store. They will discreetly open gift card packaging, record the card number and PIN, and then reseal the packaging to make it appear untouched. They will then return the compromised gift card to the gift card display.  Unsuspecting consumers might purchase these tampered cards without realizing their compromised state.
  2. Tampering with Card Barcodes and Activation Codes: Scammers may add new barcode stickers on top of real gift card barcodes that automatically deposit balances into scammers’ gift card accounts. Run your finger over the back of the gift card to detect if there is a sticker over the real barcode.  They may also copy down gift card numbers from store displays.
  3. Tampering with Activation Codes: Scammers may steal several gift cards from store displays and copy down the gift card numbers. They then carefully peel off or remove the activation stickers or scratch-off stickers on gift cards, revealing the hidden codes. After capturing this information, they place the stickers back or put on a new scratch-off sticker (which can be purchased online in bulk for under $10.00 for over 100 of them) leaving the card seemingly intact for the next purchaser. They have methods to automatically check when the card has been activated and will use the authentic activation code to take the funds.
  4. Skimming Devices: In some cases, criminals use skimming devices at the point of sale to capture the information from gift cards. These devices can discreetly collect data, allowing fraudsters to access the card’s details and drain its balance.
  5. Remote Scanning: Advanced techniques involve the use of technology to remotely scan gift cards for activation codes or PINs. Criminals exploit vulnerabilities in the card’s security features, allowing them to capture essential details without direct physical contact.

What to do:

  1. When buying a gift card, carefully check the packaging or PIN label. Don’t just look for the obvious dismantling of a card, however. Scammers work hard to be discreet, using razor blades to separate the envelopes or scratch the PIN labels off with care. If the card looks tampered with in any way, turn it in to the cashier and buy a different gift card.
  2. Since impatient thieves will put the gift cards they swiped back on the front of the rack, select gift cards that are less accessible. At a grocery store gift card kiosk, for example, you might select a card hanging in the middle position on one of the pegs rather than those that are hanging in the first position. In other words, don’t be lured by the most obvious gift card on the rack. Secondly, inspect the gift card to make sure the packaging doesn’t look altered in any way.
  3. To protect yourself from falling victim to these scams, it’s essential to thoroughly inspect gift card packaging before purchase, choose reputable retailers, and report any suspicious findings to store personnel. Additionally, shielding activation codes and PINs, as well as promptly verifying the card’s balance after purchase, can help mitigate the risk of gift card fraud.
  4. Keep your receipt and tell the company that issued the card right away. In some instances, if you discover that the funds on the card are missing quickly enough and the funds have not been spent by the scammer, the gift card company may be able to cancel the card and refund the money or reissue a replacement card. 
  5. Always check your receipt to make sure that the code number on the gift card matches the number on the receipt. Also make sure that the type of card matches as well.  For example, if you purchased a gift card for a specific company it shouldn’t say any other company on the receipt.

Contact information for some gift card companies

Amazon

  • Call 1 (888) 280-4331 and follow the instructions provided.
  • Keep the Amazon card itself and your receipt for the Amazon card.
  • Learn about Amazon gift card scams and how to report them. Once on their webpage, click on “Contact us” to report the scam.

eBay

Google Play

iTunes

  • Contact Apple Support right away online.  Once you get to the web page, select the method that you would like to communicate with them, presumably by telephone.  Select the by phone button and a representative will call you within a specified amount of time.
  • Ask if the money is still on the iTunes card. If so, Apple can put a freeze on it. You might be able to get your money back from them.
  • Keep the iTunes card itself and your receipt for the iTunes card.
  • Learn about iTunes gift card scams and how to report them.

Steam

Best Buy

  • Call 1 (888) 237-8289 and follow Best Buy’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Best Buy gift card or your store receipt.
  • Visit Best Buy’s website to learn about scams.

Sephora

  • Call 1 (877) 737-4672 and follow Sephora’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Sephora gift card or your store receipt.
  • Visit Sephora’s website to learn about scams.

Vanilla

  • Call 1 (833) 322-6760 and follow Vanilla’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Vanilla card or your store receipt.

Visa

  • Call 1 (800) 847-2911 and follow Visa’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Visa gift card or your store receipt.
  • Visit Visa’s website to learn about scams.

Walmart

  • Call 1 (888) 537-5503 and follow Walmart’s instructions.
  • Keep a copy of the Walmart gift card or your store receipt.
  • Visit Walmart’s website to learn about scams.

Don’t see your card on this list? Look for the company’s contact information on the card itself, or do some research online to find out how to reach the card issuer.

Checking your gift card balance

Often, you can check the balance of your gift card:

  • on the retailer’s website
  • on your transaction receipt
  • by calling a telephone number on the card