Sleazy Grinchy scammy conmen are also in the process of providing holiday gifts for their families. But the way they do it is by taking hard earned money from good people.

Scammers know that almost 100 billion dollars is spent annually on gift cards and studies show that almost 2/3rds of consumers prefer to receive gift cards. The math of all this equals opportunity for criminals.

Scamming gift cards is surprisingly easy. It works like this: gift cards have identifying numbers just like a credit card those numbers may be displayed on the card or embedded in the magnetic strip.  Thieves will go into a retailer that has gift card displays and take a picture of the card itself or skim the card to get the data off it.

Most gift cards can be tracked at an associated website or telephone number that has the remaining card balance. Scammers will continually track that number waiting for it to be activated. Once activated they clone the card and use its full balance at a retailer. Sometimes store clerks will take a newly activated card and pass off a blank one.

Protect yourself:

Rack displays of gift cards are shaky. If the store has them behind a counter get them there. Like in a mall kiosk. Otherwise the card could have been skimmed.

Beware of cards that have been messed with. If the packaging has been removed or the numbers have been exposed that could spell trouble. Look for activation stickers that look like they’ve been peeled off and put back on.

Don’t buy gift-cards from auction sites. There are just too many risks associated with auctioning money.

Cash it in. Whenever receiving a gift card, spend it ASAP.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to Home Security Source discussing home security and identity theft on TBS Movie and a Makeover. Disclosures.

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