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Don’t Buy Gift Cards ‘Off The Rack’

Buy your clothes off-the-rack, but never your gift cards. Ever.

By gift cards ‘off-the-rack,’ I mean those gift card carousel racks in the middle of groceries or department stores. No one’s guarding them, making them easy for people to handle them without being noticed.

Consumer Reports, the FBI, and Randy Hutchinson, president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, said by the time a consumer buys one and loads it with cash, a thief may already possess the gift card’s number.

“Not only the account number of the card, but sometimes they may have PIN numbers that have a protective coating,” Hutchinson said. “They’ll scratch the coating off, get the PIN number, put some kind of other sticker on it to make it look like it hasn’t been tampered with. Then they’ll use software or keep calling the gift card’s authorization number until they find out the card’s been activated, and then they go to town.”


  • AVOID BUYING GIFT CARDS OFF-THE-RACK. They’re just too vulnerable. If you insist on buying one off the rack, check the back of its packaging. If the perforated cardboard piece that hides the card’s number has been removed — or it appears to have been replaced by a funky sticker — do NOT purchase it. Report it to store management immediately.
  • BUY GIFT CARDS STORED EITHER BEHIND THE CUSTOMER SERVICE COUNTER OR AT CHECK-OUT. Those locations are secured or monitored more closely.
  • SAVE THE ACTIVATION/LOADING RECEIPT, THEN INCLUDE IT WITH THE GIFT CARD. That way, whoever gets the card has proof of how much was loaded on it.
  • If you’re shopping gift cards from a specific retailer or restaurant, BUY THOSE GIFT CARDS DIRECTLY FROM THAT RETAILER, RESTAURANT OR ITS SECURE WEBSITE.
  • If possible, CHANGE ITS SECURITY CODE AS SOON AS YOU BUY THE GIFT CARD. You can also register it with the retailer or the card-issuing company.
  • USE A GIFT CARD IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU RECEIVE IT. Many gift cards have expiration dates or terms that negate their use after a period of time. Also, the quicker you use it, the quicker you beat a thief to the punch!