The Gift Card Scam

If you are out shopping for a gift for someone and just don’t know what to get them then a gift card can seem like the ideal solution.

The recipient may be tied to using one shop but they have the freedom to buy whatever they want when they are there.


Gift cards are also, on first glance, relatively secure too.

They have a magnetic strip and require a PIN number for use.

Should you lose the gift card then you can make a phone call and retain any outstanding balance.

The gift card has a magnetic strip on it’s back and can keep track of any funds outstanding on it as well as what it has been used for.

Gift card scams

Unfortunately, that clever little magnetic strip can also be a very big weakness for gift cards too.

With portable, handheld, magnetic strip scanners becoming easily available at low cost, the opportunities for scammers to make money at your expense has also increased.

The gift card scam begins with the scammer collecting some blank cards and then disappearing to a quiet area of the store.

Here they will use their magnetic strip scanner to extract the user id for the cards before putting them back without making a purchase.

At some point in the future an unsuspecting victim of this scam will purchase one of these gift cards and add their chosen amount of credit to it.

As the stores who provide gift cards run a service which enable the purchasers to check their balance, the scammers can utilise this to determine when a card has been authorised and credited.

As soon as they find one with a worthwhile balance they will take a blank card and reprogram it as a clone of that card.

Then they are free to go and spend the entire balance that the victim had credited the card with or, alternatively, they will sell the card in order to make a quick profit.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.


  1. […] of the gift card scams that are out there now come in two different […]

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