Don't Get Grinched from Gift Card Scams

December 21, 2007 - Posted at 4:12 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR -- With only four days until christmas, the countdown is on to find those last minute presents.  If you've got gift cards on your list, Christmas crooks may just be able to rob you of your card's balance.

Shopper Vera Work said, "Sometimes you have no idea, you buy the right gift and they take it back, you have no idea."

The gift card may be perfect for just about everyone but some thieves may be stuffing their stockings with yours this year.

U.S. shoppers are going to spend a whopping $25 billion dollars in gift cards this year, but $8 billion dollars of that money is going to go unused, primarily because of scam artists.

While managers can't comment on how they do it, Target stores make sure your gift card money stays where it's supposed to be.

"We really look at our gift cards daily, especially during this holiday season when we are really really busy. and we have employees that go and look at all of the gift card central stations and we really pay attention to that sort of thing," said Target store team leader William Hawkins.

Never buy a gift card from a third party or internet site and always keep the receipt.  Also, be sure to check the back of a gift card before purchasing.

"I would definatly say to our guests, look on the back, make sure it hasn't been tampered with, that's not something that we really run into a lot. howevere you just really never know, it's just always good to be safe," said Hawkins.

"I feel like buying the gift card is about as safe as giving money, although i give money instead of buying gift cards," laughed Work.

8 Tips for Protecting Yourself From Any Gift Card Scam:

There are plenty of things that you can do to protect yourself from gift card scams. And the best part is that none of these things will take more than a few minutes. Just follow these eight simple tips to make shopping for gift cards safer:

Don't buy gift cards from online auction sites. Since this is a large source of gift card fraud, these cheap gift cards may well be worthless to you. Sure, some of these cards are real, but many are stolen, counterfeit or used. It's not worth the risk. Only buy gift cards directly from the store issuing the gift card or from a secure retailer's website -- no matter how much cheaper they may be somewhere else. If you do buy a gift card online, make sure you buy it from the place that you plan to use it.

Don't buy gift cards off of publicly displayed racks in retail stores. In addition, don't assume that because gift cards are inaccessible to the public, they are safe. After all, sometimes store employees can participate in gift card scams too.

Always carefully examine both the front and back of a gift card before you buy it. If you can see a PIN number, put the card back and get a different one. If a gift card looks like it could have been tampered with, don't buy that gift card.

Always ask the store cashier to scan the gift card in front of you. This will guarantee that your card is valid when you buy it and that it reflects the balance you just charged it with. This will also protect you from crooks who exchange worthless cards for the cards you think you are buying.

Always keep your receipt as a proof of purchase as long as there is money stored on the gift card. Since many retailers can track where the gift card was purchased, activated and used, if the card is stolen, some retailers will replace the card for you if you have your receipt.

If possible, register your gift card at the store's website.  Although not all stores offer this option, you can uncover any misuse of your gift card sooner and report it more quickly.

Finally, never, ever give your Social Security number, date of birth or any other unneeded private information when you purchase a gift card. No reputable company will ask for this info.