Abby Slutsky used to prosecute petty theft. Special thanks to her son, a senior intelligence fraud analyst, who assisted with this article.
Gift Cards: Check Your Balance
Often I find subjects to write about based on personal experience. A few months ago, a friend purchased and sent me an online gift card. Typically, when I get a gift card via the Internet, I print it and put it with my physical gift cards. When I use it, I throw it out. At the moment, I have been wearing the same three shirts and shorts, so I have not really needed anything. A few weeks ago, I had a gift to buy and decided I may as well use the gift card.
I selected an item, punched in the gift card code and was told there was a zero balance. I called the number on the website figuring I probably punched in a wrong number. After several calls to supervisors, I was told a purchase was made by someone I did not know, so I realized I was a victim of gift card fraud. I immediately wanted to know if I could get a refund. When I attempted to get a reimbursement, I was initially informed that it was like losing money, and there was nothing the store could do. However, after some aggravation and persistence, I was able to get a refund, but the answer is it probably depends on the store and the employee who handles your problem.
Given that I formerly practiced law and knew that some stores calculate a percentage of sales lost due to theft into their pricing, I argued that the consumer is already paying for theft, so the store should not get a windfall by charging a consumer twice for theft. The sales clerk offered me a phone number for consumer relations and theft, but he indicated my friend would have to pursue the matter because she was the purchaser of record.
It took two more phone calls and three additional hours of our time to finally secure a refund. When my friend forwarded me the new gift card, I spent it immediately as I was certain I would not get reimbursed if the gift card was stolen a second time.
Ways it Could Have Happened
Here are some ways the gift card fraud could have occurred.
- Breach in the store's computer
- Breach in the gift card recipient's computer
- Gift card bot
- Internal store employee gift card scam
Breach in the Store's Computer
This is possible, but not as likely as some of the other possibilities. A gift card scammer would have to access the particular area where the store kept active gift card numbers, or try existing numbers to see whether they are active.
Recipient Had a Breach
It is more likely that an individual had his email account compromised to some degree. If you have used your email on a site that has been breached, there is a chance that someone may be able to access your email to commit gift card fraud, particularly if you reuse passwords.
To check whether your email account is at risk of someone accessing it, check this site, which will tell you whether your email has been exposed in another company’s data breach. (Many emails are at risk, so do not be alarmed if your email is susceptible.) In theory, although unlikely, if you are exposed to a breach, someone could be monitoring your email for gift cards. Protect yourself by changing your password periodically.
Inside Employee Scam
There was an inside scam or an opportunity for someone to copy the gift card numbers before it was activated. The person could check the numbers periodically, and make a purchase shortly after activation. It happens, but it is probably not as likely as a bot breach.
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Gift Card Bot
A hacker used a bot (GiftGhostbot, most likely) to find an active gift card number they could access. The bot has the ability to test many numbers from retailers to find one that has an active monetary value. Then the hacker or someone he knows can use the gift card and resell the merchandise.
It Takes Time on the Phone to Get a Refund
Procedure if You AreTrying to Get a Gift Card Scam Refund
Recognize that it is unlikely that the person committing the gift card fraud will be caught. You will be fortunate if the store believes you, and provides a refund. It will take persistence. (The store I dealt with did the right thing, so they are not mentioned in this article. However, I want to alert others to check their gift cards and use them quickly.)
1. Plan on being on the phone a while. This may take multiple calls, and you will have to keep asking for a supervisor to get a gift card scam refund.
2. Know that the store, to some extent, has the ability to tell where your computer order is coming from, and when and where the fraudulent purchase from your gift card was made. (The store I dealt with also had the name of the person who made the purchase, but whether that name was an alias I do not know.) It is unlikely the locations of your computer and the purchaser's computer will match up.
3. Stay calm, but be persistent.
4. If you are successful, praise the person who helped you and the store. There is a good chance they did not cause the problem.
Although briefly mentioned, it is important to be organized when you receive gift cards.
1. Make a note of who gave you the gift. (The purchaser, not the recipient, may need to pursue the gift card fraud reimbursement.)
2. Make sure you know if you spent the gift card. (Right now, I have not been spending much, but if I tried to use the card a year from now, I might just think I spent the gift card and did not remember.)
Gift Card Fraud
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Abby Slutsky