Ken Paxton
Consumer Protection

Be a Smart Shopper When Buying Gift Cards

With the holidays fast approaching, millions of consumers will buy prepaid gift cards from merchants all across the State of Texas. These cards have become extremely popular; they can easily be mailed to far-away loved ones and undoubtedly simplify gift shopping at a very busy time of year.

Unfortunately, recent reports indicate that the crooks might also have their eye on the convenience of gift cards. According to law enforcement and consumer protection sources from around the country, scam artists are strolling around busy shopping centers, eyeing racks full of not-yet-activated gift cards (generally, these cards are only valid after a consumer pays for them). The con artists write down or memorize the serial numbers on the face of the card, then sit back and wait for an unsuspecting consumer to purchase and activate the card.

Once a card has been purchased, all the scammer has to do is call the card's customer service number, confirm that it has been activated, and check its available balance. By then, the scammer can use the card to make online purchases. Sadly, it could be days or even weeks before consumers find out that the balance on their cards has been drained by a thief.

Protect yourself by making sure that your purchase of a gift card is a safe one: Ask a store clerk to provide you with a gift card from behind a counter or that has not otherwise been accessible to the general public. Also note that some gift cards already have security measures, such as an additional scratch off code. If so, make sure that the no one has tampered with either the card or its packaging.

Remember to be a vigilant consumer throughout the season. If you buy or receive a gift card where any part of the balance mysteriously disappears, you should immediately notify the merchant who issued the card.

Happy holidays.

ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.