Social media influencer exposes a grinch of a gift card scam

If you plan to buy gift cards this holiday season, you’ll want to read this first.

A social media influencer has exposed a new scam in which swindlers are stealing money loaded onto gift cards with a sticker of a different barcode.

Unsuspecting shoppers pick a card, and take it to the cashier to pay the dollar amount, only to later discover the card is empty. The money has been added to the scammers barcode account.

Nichelle Laus, a fitness instructor and former police officer, first learned about the scam from a cashier at a Winners store.

The mother of four was buying a gift card and the cashier said, “I want to make sure this one is good,” Laus said. “The (card) I actually had in my hand was a fake one, which is crazy because I had never heard it.”

Laus, who has a large following on TikTok and Instagram where she offers safety and security tips, decided to detail the scam in a video when it happened again earlier this week. This time she was buying a PlayStation gift card at a Shoppers Drug Mart.

“I picked up the first PlayStation card from the card display and I saw the back and there was a fake sticker on there,” Laus told the Star.

When the cashier scanned the pirated PlayStation card, the reading on the screen identified it as an LCBO card.

Laus got consent from the drugstore to make the video and help spread awareness of the scam.

“If I did not notice … I’d be loading the $100 on the LCBO card and the person who owns that fake card would then have their card loaded with the $100,” she said.

Loblaw, which owns Shoppers Drug Mart, acknowledged that gift card fraud is “a problem impacting the retail sector.

“Our store’s teams are trained to recognize tampering, as well as other fraudulent situations involving the purchase of gift cards and do their best to intercept cards that may be fraudulent before they are purchased,” Loblaw said in a statement.

Claudiu Popa, a cybersecurity and safety expert, said gift card scams “are the most popular holiday scam today.”

As people ramp up their holiday shopping, scammers do the same.

“This is due to their ease of use for personal gifts, but also for workplace fraud,” added Popa, who is chairman of KnowledgeFlow Cybersafety Foundation in Toronto.

Scammers steal inactive cards from multiple stores and swap their barcodes. “When recipients activate their cards, criminals pounce and deplete the card of funds, leaving friends and family members without their gifts.”

Popa said another popular tactic seen “this year more than ever,” has scammers impersonating managers and emailing employees urgent requests for numerous gift cards and simply ask for the codes to get control of the cards.

“It is an effortless way to generate free money for unscrupulous criminals,” Popa said.

To avoid being duped, Popa advises “never shop” from a phone because it’s difficult to know who sends messages. He also says to avoid buying based on social media promotions or clickbait.

“Stay vigilant this holiday season.”

If you do plan to buy physical gift cards, Laus recommends always checking the back of the card. If the barcode is raised or you can peel it off and find another barcode underneath, it’s likely a fake.

At the checkout, make sure the barcode that shows up on the cash register scan matches the one on your gift card, Laus said.

“This is going to help a lot of people,” Laus said. “So many people have lost so much money.”


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