Major retailers across the U.S. are implementing sweeping policy changes in order to combat gift card fraud this holiday season. According to a report from Reuters, Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy are all revamping their gift card plans to make it harder from criminals and thieves to swindle unsuspecting shoppers. This initiative is being backed by the attorney general of New York Barbara Underwood and of Pennsylvania Josh Shapiro. The pair has been advocating for gift from reform since last year and continue to hunt down scammers.
“By working collaboratively with these retailers, we’ve created a way for businesses to take proactive steps to prevent scams,” said AG Underwood in a statement, according to Reuters.
The most noticeable changes for consumers include lowering the amount of money a person can place on a gift card, and restricting the ability to transfer balances from one gift card to another. The three retailers are also implementing improved employee training which will help associates spot scams and warn victims. In addition, the retailers want to provide more education to consumers about possible crimes.
Gift cards are at the top of consumers‘ wish lists for the 12th year in a row, according to a study conducted by the National Retail Federation. Of the 7,313 people surveyed, 60 percent of them responded that they had requested gift cards. However, as the gift cards popularity continues to rise, so does the number of people being cheated. Of all the people who reported being a victim of a scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than a quarter of them used a gift card during the transaction. By contrast, in 2015 that number was only around 7 percent.
One popular scam involves the criminal impersonating an IRS agent,and demanding payment for alleged “back taxes,” and offering to take the payment by gift card. In Washington state, scammers posing as tax agents instruct victims to purchase specific gift cards or money grams, then read the card’s info to the faux agent, according to a report from KEPR TV. The criminal then uses that gift card to buy another gift card, frequently for online stores like iTunes or Amazon. Scammers have also targeted elderly victims, posing as a grandchild who needs money for bail. The fraudster will then say that the jail will accept gift card money as a form of payment and requests the victim make the payment on their behalf, according to LongIsland.com.
The average victim loses about $500 per scam. According to Reuters, more than $53 million has been stolen through gift card scams in the first nine months of 2018. The total amount lost in 2017 totaled just $40 million, indicating this new crime is happening more frequently. Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to ensure that you never give out gift card information and reduce the amount of money you are placing on each card.