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Thieves Targeting Store Gift Cards

Reported by: Send eMail Heath Harrison
Web Producer: Heath Harrison
Reported: Dec. 4, 2013 8:26 PM EST
Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 8:34 AM EST

EYEWITNESS NEWS ONLINE WEBCAST VIDEO

Gift Card Thefts
Eyewitness News Photo

Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia

Reported by Stefano DiPietrantonio

The bad guys have at least two more ways to steal Christmas - through your gift cards.

You, or the person you gave those gift cards to, may not find out the cards have been emptied until months after the holidays.

Eyewitness News put the question out on our station Facebook page.

Dianna Tucker said she gives several gift cards at Christmas and has also gotten several without any problems.

Crystal Bird Ward said, "I'm paranoid. I always make the cashier double check to make sure it's OK.”

Mike Ellis was given several gift cards for Christmas last year, but when he went to use them, he said they were all empty.

He thought it was because he'd waited so long to use them.

Here's how the crooks are doing it: They're using a QR scanner app on their smart phones and they're scanning the bar code on the back of the gift card. They're also scratching off the little square that has the pin hidden behind it. And the trick is, they just go home and sit online and wait. The minute you buy the card, it's activated and you're out of your cash.

"The crooks are always evolving,” Michael Baylous, of West Virginia State Police, said. “They're changing their game plan. The seller and the buyer both need to be aware."

But what if you went to a store to spend it – you've already eaten your meal, and you're getting ready to pay, and the card is empty? That would be awkward, if it was the only money you had on board.

And there's also a new twist. The crooks are putting their own bar code sticker over the one already on the card, so when you go to scan it, it loads the cash onto another blank card and you're out of your money, and they're virtually untraceable.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey offered his advice before you spend anything.

He said to always check the back of the card. Make sure that tiny area where the card's PIN is hidden has not already been scratched off, and that the card's barcode has not been compromised, altered or covered up in any way.

Like anything else we buy this Christmas, we just need to be a little more careful.

Can you imagine someone you gave a gift card to getting stuck for the bill at, say, a restaurant.

Let's hope none of us get that phone call.



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