Graduation season is a popular time for consumers to purchase gift cards. Unfortunately, these convenient gift solutions are easily targeted by criminals. This article explains how scammers can drain the money from your gift card before you even have a chance to use it.
In retail stores, gift cards are usually displayed out in the open, making them easily accessible to con artists; they simply take a card from the rack, write down the account number, then peel off the back strip to locate the PIN. Replacement strips are placed back over the PIN so that the card appears untouched. Once the consumer activates the card and loads it with funds, the scammer gets an alert and can spend the money right away.
You can also experience a gift card scam online. Hackers access online gift cards through botnets. This illegal software searches for loaded accounts, then tests a directory of PIN numbers until one works. The hacker then either sells the gift card account on the dark web or uses it to buy goods for themselves.
To protect yourself, try to purchase gift cards online from companies that use botnet defense software. Take extra precaution on your computer and mobile devices by updating your security software and using a password generator. If you purchase in store, choose a gift card from the back of the rack that doesn't look tampered with and then change the PIN as soon as you get home. You can also report any suspicious activity to the Federal Trade Commission.