Gift Card Warning: Check Packaging for Signs of Tampering

Good afternoon everyone, a friend of mine from Irvine (Southern California) sent me the following email about gift card fraud and how the scammers were able to access the gift card information by tampering with the gift card packaging.  Here is his story:

A few days ago, I went to Woodbury Ralphs to get a few VGC’s. I should have been tipped off that something was wrong b/c there were barely any left …. there usually are tons.

But anyway, I grabbed a few and checked out. They all still had the pull tab intact. They all loaded with $500 just fine, without a problem.

Upon calling the 1-800 # to activate two of them, however, the prompts said that the cards could not be activated and to speak to a customer service rep. It turned out that both of the cards were frozen b/c someone had tried to access funds on them (back in October 2014). And thus they were frozen.

I looked carefully at the cards and they were pretty scratched up (one of them had a hair glued on!). A closer inspection of the packaging on the bottom showed that there was a very subtle yellow hue at the bottom of the packages where the scammer had sliced them open and glued them back together again. I have attached photos of this (I slightly adjusted the levels of the picture in Photoshop to enhance the yellow at the bottom, so it’s easier to see (it was barely noticeable in real life).

Gift Card Packaging Slided Open Bottom

The ones that were scammed were the ones with the purple bubbles with blue bubbles in the upper left corner (this is probably only pertinent to the Woodbury scammer’s card of choice).

Tampered Visa Gift Cards Front

An additional detail was that I bought 6 cards – four were the one with the picture of a “gift box” on them — these activated fine.

Moral of the story for me was to look VERY CAREFULLY at the packages of VGC’s, especially the bottom of the packaging. If there is any suspicion, do not buy it.

The additional details I forgot to add are that they asked me to fax in my activation receipts (pulled them out of my shoe box, thank goodness), my name/address/email, the 16-digit card #’s, and the back of the physical cards. They said that they get 100’s of these complaints per day and that I would be contacted in 7-10 business days, at which point they would send out new cards with the full value.

If you ever want to post the photo and the story as a posting, feel free to! I think you may have posted something about this already in the past, though, I can’t remember.

Take care man! Have a good rest of the weekend…..

Thank you for sharing your story.  That is scary to hear because I have purchase many gift cards at that particular store and have never had any problems.  This is a good reminder to assume that scammers are everywhere and to make sure the gift cards look and “feel right” before you buy them.  I would also mention gift cards are like ticking time bombs, the longer you hold onto to them, the more dangerous they get.  It is better to liquidate them ASAP, if possible.

If you want to learn more about dealing with gift card issues, I have 2 other posts worth reading.  Fun fact: the second article below is about the same Ralphs store that is mentioned above.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.  Have a great day everyone!

27 thoughts on “Gift Card Warning: Check Packaging for Signs of Tampering

  1. Seth

    Thanks for the heads up. a few times at office supply stores during a good deal all I have been able to find were a final few gift cards with pull tabs already pulled and taped back by the store. Even though I know better I almost always buy them because I cannot resist a deal. Thankfully I have not yet been burned (probably because real scammers are not as obvious as pulling the tabs, they are doing shady stuff like outlined in this story)

    1. Grant

      I prefer the “un-tabbed” Visa gift cards, not the ones missing the tabs, but I have bought a few with tabs missing from time to time. I haven’t gotten burned yet, luckily.

  2. Laura

    Excellent post to warn your readers. The exact same thing happened to me last month with a single VGC I purchased at Ralphs (here in L.A.) for $500. Two days after I purchased it, I was planning on unloading the entire amount and logged in to check the balance. You can imagine my surprise when I saw a single transaction at for about $65 that I had never made. I then called and they froze the card due to the fraudulent charge. To get the card back was a huge hassle. Like you said above, I had to write a letter w/the info they needed, then I had to find a place with a fax machine, because who owns a fax machine nowadays, and it took almost a month to get my card back. When I got the new card, it had my name embossed on it but the money from the fraudulent charge was still not on it. They had explained that the fraudulent charge gets investigated and it can take up to 90 days to clear that up… thank goodness it was a relatively small charge. For me, the lesson learned is to never buy those cards at a Ralphs…. my card had NOT been tampered with at all and the tabs were intact, so I wonder if they used RFID technology to skim the card… to this day I still can’t figure it out.

    1. Paul

      Had almost identical issue with 3 MC vgc that I purchased mid January. I did not see any evidence of tampering (I’ve bought thousands so am confident I’d spot tampering). But that’s not surprising. MC are horribly insecure because they expose the last 8 digits of the bar code. That gives enough information to predict the account number if you know a few basic things about MC vgc (you can predict the account number on the card with 100% accuracy).

      In my case, the racks were full, so despite what the OP said, an empty rack isn’t dispositive of fraud (I’ve bought lots of cards from nearly empty racks and not had any issues).

      Of the 3 that I had problems with, 2 had multiple attempts at charges from Orbitz (I registered them with my name and found out the charge history). All of the Orbitz charges failed and were returned (probably because the scammers needed to register their names online to make them work and they didn’t want to do that). But they were able to make an in-person charge at Michaels – in Compton California (a true shit hole). The 3rd card had already been closed and I wasn’t able to register and find out what had happened to that card.

      3 weeks after submitting the info, I got new cards in the mail (just a few days ago) with zero explanation of what they were for or how much was on each card. After activating them, found they only had the amount that was still on the cards when I submitted the fraud claims (actually, there was a few dollars missing on one card from the amount that was on the card when they closed the card). When I activated them, I found each had an activation fee of $5.95 deducted from each card and I had to call to get them to reverse the charge (bastards!)

      That it takes so long to get a refund is outrageous, especially since the fraud is due to their lack security. That they also charge an “activation fee” adds insult to injury.

      1. Grant

        Thank you for sharing your horror story, Paul. I’m sorry it has taken so long to get replacement gift cards (with the correct balance). Were these MasterCard GCs from Metabank, US Bank, or someone else? Please keep me updated on what happens over the next few weeks with your gift card claim. Have a great day.

  3. Rindsy

    Same thing happened to me many months ago. If you don’t get a new card in the time frame they promised, dispute the charge with the credit card company. Ralph’s said they couldn’t help (although they admitted that they’ve known about the problem for a while — now, hearing that it keeps happening, something tells me it’s an inside job), the gift card company said they would, but ultimately only my credit card issuer did. I’m more careful when buying gift cards now. No way to be 100% sure, but some packaging just feels more right and unadulterated.

    1. Grant

      Thanks for sharing Rindsy, back in the day when I could buy OVGCs at CVS and then drive across the street to Walmart, I was able to load and unload the cards in under 10 minutes. That definitely helped prevent any fraudulent purchases.

  4. Sedu Hairstyles

    Same thing happened to me many months ago. If you don't get a new card in the time frame they promised, dispute the charge with the credit card company. Ralph's said they couldn't help (although they admitted that they've known about the problem for a while — now, hearing that it keeps happening, something tells me it's an inside job), the gift card company said they would, but ultimately only my credit card issuer did. I'm more careful when buying gift cards now. No way to be 100% sure, but some packaging just feels more right and unadulterated..

  5. Pam

    Recently taking advantage of some Amex sync offers, I ordered multiple gift cards from Petco online. Four arrived in open envelopes and the next three arrived with the pin security scratched off. All ordered directly from petco. Of course their customer service department in India could not understand my problem at all.

  6. star

    Man, this post and comments are scary. I went to my stash of GCs from Safeway and OfficeMax acquired in the past couple months and checked all the packaging, and noticed some of them were starting to come apart on the bottom themselves. I haven’t liquidated them yet because I had to load other cards onto my redbird first. Hopefully nothing is wrong with mine and I can liquidate them without problems. Scary though!!

    1. Grant

      Like I said, gift cards are like ticking time bombs. You better liquidate the sketchy looking gift cards as soon as you can. I hope everything goes smoothly.

  7. Inflightmeal

    Dealing with the people at Card Services for those above VGCs is horrible. A joke, even. After a 500 wasn’t activated properly (just a random fluke — everything looked like usual for transaction), I went back and forth with these guys for months. Filed a Consumer Finance Bureau complaint and they MAGICALLY resolved it in a week.

    Great tip on the bottom of the cards too!

    1. Grant

      I know what you mean. When it works, it works great. But when you have gift card activation or fraud issues, it can be a real pain in the butt. Glad you got your issue resolved after filing a CFB complaint.

  8. another Seth

    This is a good post to raise awareness. I’m always skeptical if there are only a couple gift cards on the rack. Additionally, I NEVER hold on to gift cards because I’m afraid of scumbags such as this example and also because I like to liquidate and then toss so I don’t have to keep track of what I’ve liquidated or not. And there’s always the possibility of misplacing them in your house, car, or whatever. Never more than 30 minutes from activation to liquidation for me. One additional tip: Always, always verify that the card loaded properly on your receipt. Would really suck to throw away a gift card and then realize that the process didn’t complete correctly.

  9. Kent C

    Excellent post….and reminder to those like us who buy large amounts of gift cards. I always look them over, even scratch the small number code on the back to make sure it is raised (for non-vanilla cards). This slicing and gluing thing isn’t new but looking for glue marks is now something I’ll do too. If the tabs are missing (when they should be there) or something just seems off at the seals or corners, I usually give them to the cashier and advise them to get rid of the cards. Most of the time they are clueless and probably just put them back on the shelf after I leave.

    I always grab GCs from the back, not the front. Figure the criminal wants his picked fast and will, if smart, put it in front. Not a real safeguard, but in my mind it helps.

    Haven’t been burned yet, done close to 100k in 7 mo. Keep good accounting.

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  12. Hector

    Two weeks ago I bought a 500 VGC and a few days later hen I was about to use it, I registered it online and saw that it had mostly been used at WM. I started the claim process, which involves me signing an affidavit about the charges at WM , who then has 1.5 months to dispute it. They gave me an estimate of 2-3 months to resolve this. When I called recently, there was a long wait time, and it said they would get back to me within 48 BUSINESS hours. That could be 8 days! What a joke.

    1. Grant

      Oh my. That sounds terribly. I know w few people who have had issues at Walmart and the process has taken almost 2 months to resolve. Good luck with the claim process.

  13. james

    Similar to the article I bought one and it was one of the last left, there were many master card ones though. So I bought one, I get home open it only to see it had 14 digits, you could tell two were scratched. Before contacting customer service I decided to try a combinations to see if I got the right number, twenty minutes later (and about 40 tries) i finally found the two missing digits, and activate it. I used all right away, I check the next day, and noticed one transaction failed in another state. I’m glad I was able to use it before they got to it. Definitely trying to avoid buying those visa gift cards in the future.

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