Protect yourself from gift card hackers

Retailers and consumer experts expect gift cards to be the most popular item people will receive this holiday season.

Con artists also know the lucrative gift card trade provides hundreds of millions of dollars to potentially pilfer from consumers. Thieves have devised various methods of "hacking" gift cards to steal the money before consumers use them.

Here are some ways to protect the money on the gift card you receive this holiday season.

How can thieves hack a gift card?

Thieves often record the numbers from gift cards in a store before a consumer buys it and create another card with the same information. When a customer loads the original card, the thief tries to spend the money first.

The thieves also buy card-reading devices to capture the card information and then use it to spend the money.

How can I protect myself from having my gift card information hacked?

An important way to protect your gift card is to inspect the card before buying it. Verify that no protective stickers have been removed and that the codes on the back of the card haven't been scratched off to reveal an identification number. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.

Also, buy from known and trusted sources. Avoid online auction sites, because the cards sold there may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.

What if my gift card is lost or stolen?

If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. You may not recover any of the value that was on the card. Some issuers will not replace cards that are lost or stolen, but other issuers will, for a fee. You may need to show proof of purchase and the ID number on the card. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers you can call to report a lost or stolen card.

If I can't resolve a dispute with the retailer about my gift card, whom can I call?

There are government agencies that can help.

• For cards issued by retailers, contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Or you may file a complaint with your state attorney general (for a list of state offices, visit www.naag.org).

• For cards issued by national banks, contact the comptroller of the currency's Customer Assistance Group by calling toll-free 1-800-613-6743 or sending an e-mail to customer.assistance@occ.treas.gov. The comptroller charters, regulates and supervises national banks.

Protect yourself from gift card hackers 12/23/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 23, 2010 8:46pm]

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