Summary of the eRumor: A warning that crooks are
taking down the card numbers of gift cards in retail stores before they
are purchased and activated--then later going online and using the
activated cards for shopping sprees.
The Truth: The story is true and the
procedure has been used by crooks, but it's not clear how widespread it
is. So far the warning seems to be larger than the problem.
One of the alerts was sent by the Hanover County Sheriff's Office in
Virginia, which confirmed with TruthOrFiction.com that the story is
Here are the facts:
Gift cards are frequently found
displayed for sale in retail stores, but they are useless until they are
purchased and activated. The activation also determines how much
money is on the card.
According to the eRumor, thieves are copying down the numbers on the
unsold cards.. Some of them, for example, may grab a handful of
from a display, go into a restroom to copy the information from them,
then return them. Some cards have personal identification
(PIN) numbers on them but they are hidden under a scratch-off
covering. Some of the thieves go ahead and scratch that off so
they can have the PIN numbers as well and unless you are aware of that,
you may not notice that the PIN number was once concealed.
Later when the cards have been purchased and activated, the thieves will
use the cards, typically for purchases online.
So there is the danger that a gift card that you purchased may end up
being worthless because the money will be gone before you spend it.
The eRumor recommends that you get a
gift card from an employee behind a counter rather than use the ones
that are displayed for all to see.
Retailers have been tight-lipped about the problem, presumably because
they don't want to give visibility to the idea so it is hard to judge
how widespread the problem is.. Joseph LaRocca, vice president of
loss prevention for the National Retail Federation, says there is
concern about gift card fraud but that the losses he's aware of have
been "miniscule." And most of those have not been
the result of stolen card numbers but rather from crooked employees such
as store clerks or restaurant servers who give you back a blank card
when you have given them a full card to use for a purchase.
LaRocca also warned against buying gift cards being offered online by
private parties. Consumers have been tricked either by receiving
cards that did not have the values that were claimed or were gift cards
that were purchased with stolen credit cards. LaRocca said
that a couple of years ago retailers did a survey of gift cards
purchased over the Internet and 70% of them were either purchased with
stolen money or were not the value that the purchasers thought they
A Washington resident told KOMO-TV in Seattle that she and some friends
from a church group chipped in for a $150 gift card from Wal-Mart as a
gift to a colleague. When the friend tried to use it, she was told
that the card was empty and that someone else had already used it.
Another woman told KOMO that she had the same experience but with a $25
card. It had been purchased in Olympia, Washington, but used by a
stranger at a Wal-Mart in Chehalis even though the woman had never let
the card out of her possession.
A real example of the eRumor as it has
appeared on the Internet:
Gift Card Alert!!!!!
Well the crooks have found a way to
rob you of your gift card balance. If you buy Gift Cards from a
display rack that has various store cards you may become a
victim of theft. Crooks are now jotting down the card numbers in
the store and then wait a few days and call to see how much of a
balance THEY have on the card. Once they find the card is
"activated", and then they go online and start
shopping. You may want to purchase your card from a customer
service person, where they do not have the Gift Cards viewable
to the public.
Please share this with all your
family and friends...