Whether it’s a last-minute option or a last-ditch effort to please the toughest person on your Christmas list, gift cards are wildly popular around the holidays. Still, you need to be careful to avoid getting scammed.
Gift card popularity is booming. Spending has been increasing steadily since 1999, and WalletHub predicts Americans will spend $204 billion on gift cards this year alone. With all that money on the line, scammers are looking for easy ways to cash in.
Melanie McGovern of the Better Business Bureau says this is a growing issue.
“Gift card complaints and scam tracker reports are up 50% over last year.”
So how can you protect yourself? The BBB says there are some simple steps you can take to avoid buying a bad card. “If the gift card looks that it's been tampered with, if the box looks like it's been bent a little, don't buy it,” says McGovern, explaining that rips, wrinkles, and barcode stickers are red flags in situations like this.
To be safe, don’t grab the closest card to you. “The more a gift card sits, the more it could be subject to either losing that money or somebody else could pick it up,” McGovern says. She advises you to only buy a gift card if you expect the recipient to use it right away.
Next, make sure there’s a paper trail. McGovern says receipts are important because if your card has been drained, your proof of purchase is your only chance to get your money back. “Make sure you have the receipt for the point of sale and act immediately.”
McGovern says you can try to get a refund by contacting the retailer and your bank and letting them know what happened immediately. Even if it’s a small amount of money, it can be worth the effort to ask. “It's really important to protect yourself not only online but in real life as well.”