What you need to know before giving away gift cards to protect your gift card balance – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

If you're picking up a gift card to give away, law enforcement is warning consumers to be aware of schemes targeting card balances. Police from Plano, Texas, to Sacramento, California, told NBC 5 Responds that law enforcement has seized thousands of gift cards in gift card depletion investigations.

'There’s no money on it”

Nicole Bruns of Prosper included a $100 DoorDash gift card when putting together a care package for a friend with an injured child.

Bruns said family members called after the gifts were delivered. “About an hour later, I heard from the family that their gift card couldn't be used,” she said. “There was no money on it.”

Bruns called the Kroger where she bought the card. Bruns said the website referred her to DoorDash, which sent her back to Kroger.

“I was very frustrated because no one wanted to help,” Bruns said.

When NBC 5 Responds contacted Kroger, the company refunded Bruns and put money on her rewards card as a goodwill gesture. Bruns said her biggest concern isn't money.

“I just don't want this to happen to anyone else,” Bruns said. “Kroger has a giant gift card display with tons of gift cards. This is probably going to happen over and over again.

Larry Vining of Alvarado had just brought home a Home Depot gift card when he felt a strange seam in the packaging.

“Uh-oh, there's something wrong. I knew it was depleted,” Vining recalled. “I took it apart and looked at it and sure enough, when I called, there was nothing in there.”

Aaron Bracken said he and his wife discovered a problem after purchasing three Amazon gift cards of varying amounts.

“She thought, well, I'm going to call and make sure the balance on these items is correct before I give them to them as gifts,” Bracken said. She was surprised to find, through the automated system, that the balance on the card was zero.

Every consumer told us they purchased these cards in person. They selected the cards on display racks at Kroger area stores. Consumers who contacted NBC 5 Responds confirmed that Kroger has issued refunds.

Kroger told NBC 5 that its Dallas location handles hundreds of gift card transactions every day and that fraud is rare. It points to a variety of strategies to protect customers, including gift card display signs, online education and employee training to prevent fraud. Kroger said customers with questions can contact its customer relations center at 1-866-544-8062.

We asked DoorDash about Bruns' experience. It says if the card doesn't work, first contact the store where you purchased it. Check gift cards before purchasing. Customers have the option to purchase digital gift cards from its website.

Vining said he did not seek credit card assistance from Home Depot. We asked the company what other customers would do in similar situations. Home Depot told NBC 5 Responds it is doing its best to protect customers. If they are the victim of such a crime, the store will try to refund the money on the gift card purchased.

Amazon shared this page with some tips for consumers. The company told NBC 5 that customers should check their gift cards when shopping at a store or third-party location to see if there are any signs that someone has opened or attempted to open the package. Amazon said customers should contact its customer service to resolve redemption issues.

Every consumer told us they noticed signs of tampering after purchasing their card. Vining said he tried to be vigilant while shopping, even reaching for a card hidden on a shelf.

“I'm never going to be first,” Vining said. “I’d grab a handful and come back with eight or nine.”

Thousands of tampered bank cards seized police

We don't know exactly how each consumer's gift card is depleted. We do know they are not alone.

In North Texas and across the country, our NBC and Telemundo consumer teams have received dozens of complaints about disappearing gift cards. Since 2016, we have counted 186.

This spring, Plano police announced that law enforcement had seized more than 4,100 “tampered” gift cards from brands including Apple, Sephora and Foot Locker. Foot Locker said they were unavailable for comment when contacted. We have yet to hear back from Apple or Sephora. Plano said investigators arrested two people. Court records show they face charges of “unlawful use of an instrument of crime.”

In Plano, Detective Jerry Minton spoke with NBC 5 Responds about gift card tampering.

“The people who are doing it now are better at it than they used to be. They're taking their time,” Minton said.

Minton said generally, gift card theft occurs when a scammer takes a gift card off a store shelf, copies the card number and security code, and then puts the card back. When consumers deposit money into compromised gift cards, thieves deplete the value. Minton said that through computer programming, drainage can happen quickly.

“Once they become active, these bots drain the funds on these accounts,” Minton explained.

In our interviews, police said investigators cannot share evidence in ongoing cases. Minton showed us examples of tampered cards that brands provide to law enforcement for training. He explains that signs of tampering can look subtle — like a smooth barcode that should have small ridges. There may be signs of wear around the code from someone replacing the scratched material.

Minton gave an example, saying: “They may have found a replacement sticker online and put it back on the original label – again covering the barcode.”

Minton pointed to details that gift card manufacturers add to packaging, such as tape that reflects multiple colors under light.

“On the fake, all the circles, the little dots inside, are silver,” Minton explained, holding up another sticker that mimicked the look.

Minton added: “This is not a one-off. This is not just a Plano situation. This is a worldwide situation.

extensive investigation Gift card tampering

Our NBC Responds team in California's Bay Area reports on an investigation in Sacramento where deputies said they arrested a man in December for leaving gift cards on store shelves. Police said the suspect also had 5,000 gift cards in his car.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Office has since said it believes the cases are related. The report points to a broader law enforcement operation known as “Red Hook” involving nearly every major city in every state in the United States.

“Gift card tampering is nothing new. We're familiar with the idea of ​​it. Looking at it at that scale, at that organizational level, and then looking at it at that scale,” said Detective Andy Cater of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office. It’s overwhelming to realize that it’s just a small piece of a much larger puzzle.

According to Kate, investigators believe an organized crime network is sending people into the store to take away the gift cards. They moved the cards to an undisclosed location where the card numbers and security codes were stolen. The cards were reassembled to hide signs of tampering, and the scammers placed the cards back on store shelves.

Thieves monitor accounts. If a consumer deposits money into a compromised gift card, the thief will drain the balance.

Sacramento court records show the suspect in the California case has yet to enter a plea. After an early court appearance, Responds asked the man's court-appointed attorney about the Target gift cards. Lawyers told our colleagues that, to some extent, possession of the cards does not indicate that an illegal act has occurred. The suspect's new attorney has not responded to our team's latest questions.

Target told us, “We recognize the prevalence of gift card tampering and take this issue very seriously.”

Target said it is proactively addressing the issue through a multi-layered approach, including store teams checking cards for physical signs of tampering. It also noted that “gift card tampering is an industry-wide problem.” Target said that to learn more, customers can visit its security and fraud page.

Gift cards are'Nearly untraceable cash

We want to know: Why use gift cards?

The special agent in charge of the FBI field office in San Francisco told Response reporter Chris Chmura that gift cards provide criminals with a way to obtain untraceable cash.

Special Agent in Charge Robert Tripp said thieves overseas would combine and sell compromised accounts at less than face value. Ultimately, a U.S. buyer was attracted who paid cash for discounted gift cards, unaware that the balance had been stolen.

“If it goes through two, three, four hands, it's almost untraceable,” Tripp said.

How to avoid depleted gift cards

Plano Detective Minton said to reduce the likelihood of purchasing a tampered card, consider a card that is locked in a store. Or order an e-gift card sent directly to the recipient's email.

If your gift card is depleted, Plano police recommend consumers file a report with the law enforcement agency from which the card was purchased. Also, please report it on the Internet Crime website.

The Retail Gift Card Association recommends that consumers report suspected gift card fraud to www.reportfraud.ftc.gov and gcfraud@hsi.dhs.gov.

The RGCA said consumers should contact the store where they purchased the gift card and the brand on the gift card. For some prepaid gift cards that are accepted at many stores, call the company listed on the back of the card.

The RCGA says when you shop, make sure the activation receipt matches the gift number you activated and save the receipt. Check your balance now. You might even consider opening your card in front of a store cashier during checkout to look for signs of tampering. If you suspect a card has been tampered with, do not put it back on the shelf but give it to a store employee.

The RCGA also added: “Our industry continues to invest in fresh, secure gift card packaging to help protect shoppers from criminals. In addition to developing tamper-proof packaging, the industry continues to invest in fresh, secure gift card packaging during the card production process and in the supply chain. Various technologies are employed to protect shoppers. Consumers can read more here.

Bruns said she's glad she didn't throw away the gift card activation receipt.

“Those little receipts you get from the grocery store: put them in an envelope somewhere and save them, just in case,” Bruns advises.

Another idea? Keep the lines of communication open when giving gift cards.

“I'm so grateful that this family reached out to us and told us,” Bruns said.

NBC 5 Responds is committed to researching your concerns and getting your money back. Our goal is to provide you with answers and, if possible, solutions and solutions. Please call 844-5RESPND (844-573-7763) or fill out our customer complaint form.

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