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Consumers fall for $0 balance gift card scams

Follow the Better Business Bureau's steps to avoid being a victim of cybercrime during this season of gift giviing.

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Buying a holiday gift for everyone in our lives can be tricky, which is why many choose to buy and give gift cards during the holidays. Both buyers and recipients of gift cards should be wary of falling for a trending scam this holiday season.

The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker receives many reports of consumers attempting to use a gift card, only to find out the balance is $0. BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota has received many complaints of this zero-balance phenomenon regarding gift cards from a large Minnesota retailer.

Here’s how the scam works: You go to a store to buy a gift card for a friend. You grab the first card you see on the shelf. You check out at the register, activate the card and load $50 onto it. Then, you give the card to your friend. When that friend goes to use the gift card, they discover their balance is $0.

To avoid this type of scam, BBB recommends the following tips.

  • Take a closer look. Thieves are known to remove gift cards from the display rack and record the numbers associated with that card, including the activation PIN. Before purchasing a gift card, look carefully at the packaging for any tears, wrinkles, or other indications of tampering, and see if the PIN is exposed. If anything looks suspicious, it’s probably best to take a different card and turn in the compromised card to the store’s Customer Service Desk.

  • Don’t wait forever to use it. The longer you hold it, the more opportunities for cybercriminals to steal the balance.

  • Register your gift card. If the retailer allows the option to register the gift card, take full advantage. This makes it easier to protect the balance, that way you can report it sooner and potentially end up saving the money that is stored on the card. When registering, always change the PIN on the card.

Other gift card tips:


  • Be wary of websites that offer to check your gift card’s balance. According to reports, there are websites that claim to check your gift card balance, but really are a clever way for thieves to steal your money. According to the CEO of Bolster, a tech company that tracks down fake websites, they’ve seen over 150,000 fake websites built around gift cards this year, which is five times the amount they saw in 2020.

  • Know who you are buying from. Little-known websites advertise gift cards for popular retailers at steep discounts. These websites might be using these offers to steal payment card numbers or other personal information. Instead, go directly to the merchant and purchase a card from them.

  • When a store goes out of business, their gift cards do, too. Learn more about what to do with your gift cards if a store goes out of business.

  • Treat it like cash. If the card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers to report a lost or stolen card – find it on the card or online.

The Federal Trade Commission reports that consumers reported losing $148 million in scams where gift cards were used as the form of payment in the first nine months of 2021.
For more information, visit or .

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is a nonprofit promoting high standards of business ethics and conduct through programs that inform, protect and assist the public. Contact the BBB at or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

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