COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Gift card scams are nothing new. But Sophia Siddiqui with the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Protection Bureau said they are always evolving. “Scammers have become really sophisticated and gift cards have become a huge problem,” said Siddiqui.

In fact, Siddiqui said one in four people who report fraud annually, report gift cards as the method. “They’re used frequently because once you spend the money, it’s gone,” Siddiqui said.

Many consumers have been reporting that exact issue when buying prepaid gift cards, like Visa’s Vanilla Gift Card, claiming that the card’s funds are depleted before the recipients get to use them. But how?

Consumer agencies like the FTC said scammers go into stores, take pictures of the activation information on the back, then leave the card on the rack — getting the information they need, leaving the gift card intact for someone to buy, then swiping the funds as soon as they’re available.

But there are things you can do to keep it from happening to you:

  • Only buy from stores you trust. Avoid secondhand purchases or unknown marketplaces. 
  • Do a thorough check of the card before you buy it. Make sure vital information is not visible. 
  • Pick gift cards that are harder to reach or in the middle of the rack. Scammers are likely to go for the ones that are easy to grab.

And for the recipient — try to use the card as soon as possible, giving the scammer less time to access the funds. “When consumers help us combat this, it really, it helps get rid of the problem and the numbers really go down,” said Siddiqui.

Once you buy, Siddiqui suggested holding on to the receipt, and any proof of payment. If this happens to you, immediately reach out to the company where you bought it. There’s no guarantee you’ll get your money back, but that will help to prove your case.