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Attention Shoppers: “National Use Your Gift Card Day” is January 20th

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

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When it comes to gift giving, there’s few things in this world that are easier to do than purchasing someone a gift card.

After all, there’s no struggling with trying to figure out someone’s size, or their favorite color. What’s more, a gift card can be practical (i.e., buying a gas card for a college student who’s out of state). It also gives us the opportunity to show our appreciation for a family member, friend, or co-worker to enjoy a nice evening out or provide them with a reason to get in a little shopping. Of course, if they really want to get away, there’s even gift cards they can use to book a flight on their favorite airline!

It’s also (VERY) big business.

To celebrate, this Saturday, January 20th is National Use Your Gift Card Day. It’s a great time to reach into your wallet, purse, or desk drawer, and treat yourself to something nice.  How big a deal is this? In 2022, gift card sales in the U.S. topped $195 billion and it’s expected that, in 2023, sales are estimated to reach $204 billion. And this year, that figure is projected to be more than $220 billion. Add to that, nearly 60 percent of gift card recipients will spend more than the value they have on the gift card.

Yet, for all of the popularity that comes with giving a gift card or receiving one, it’s estimated that $15 billion in gift cards (annually) go unused! With all those options out there – and the money that it represents -- it’s no surprise that gift cards have become a popular target for cyber criminals. In 2022, consumers reported 48,800 cases of gift card fraud, accounting for more than $228 million in total losses. On top of that, gift card fraud and imposter scams (the most reported fraud category in 2022) often go hand-in-hand, creating even more of a problem.

Scammers like gift card cards because they are, often, easy to break into and also because they do not have the same level of security authentication as it is with a credit or debit card.

What’s a shopper or a gift card giver to do?

According to an article in Consumer Reports, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself, including:

  • Buy gift cards online. Get them directly from retailers, chain restaurants, or other issuers. Criminals don't have easy access to those cards. This is especially important if you're purchasing a high-value gift card.
  • Avoid purchasing in-store cards with easily accessible numbers and PINs. To stay safe, it’s a good idea to purchase gift cards that are in well-sealed packaging, or those that are kept behind a counter. If the cards are out in the open on a rack, look closely at a wide assortment of the cards and inspect the bar-code numbers to see if there are duplicates, or if the packaging has been tampered with. If the cards aren’t in view of surveillance cameras or store employees, you’ll want to purchase those cards elsewhere.
  • If you receive a card as a gift, change the security code as soon as possible. Register the card when you get home, change the PIN, and use the card as soon as you can. The longer a card sits around, the more likely a cybercriminal is to steal the balance.
  • Try to get stolen funds back. Some card issuers use cybersecurity defense systems, and they may be able to distinguish between honest and fraudulent transactions on your gift card. If your card has been drained, it’s important to call the issuer, report the incident and ask for reimbursement.
  • Secure your home computer. Criminals can also gain access to your gift card numbers and PINs by hacking your computer. To help prevent that, make sure your security software is up to date, and always create and use strong password, or a password generator, and enable multifactor authentication on every site where it’s available.

Have fun this weekend and here’s another “Pro Tip” when it comes to gift cards, don’t let someone try to convince you to purchase gift cards and give them the numbers as a way to pay a bill or make it appear as though you’re helping someone – only a cybercriminal will try and do that.

You can visit the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Alert website to learn more about other ways to stay cybersafe. And before you leave home this weekend, be sure to grab those gift cards and join in the celebration!