Gift Card Scam at the Checkout Line: Check Your Receipts!

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The commercials are out, the stores are decorated and we are starting to be reminded well that the holidays are quickly approaching. Holiday baking, decorating, gift buying –- it is all coming! As we start planning holiday shopping, I feel compelled to share with you one of my experiences from last year. This is not an internet forward or something I overheard in the grocery store, but this holiday shopping scam happened directly to me ....

The Sunday before Christmas last year, I had one last trip to the store to make to finish off ALL of my shopping. The list was long, but the chance to have everything done one week before Christmas was motivation enough for me. My then-8-month-old daughter and I headed off to a big, well-known store. We went through the store and ticked off every item on my list and came to the end of our shopping trip. We went to the register to check out, and picked up 8 gift cards. The total value of the gift cards was going to be around $500 in varying amounts both for gift recipients and our local women’s shelter.

gift card

Image:401KCalculator.org on Flickr

I was waiting for the cashier and chattering away with my daughter, the people behind me in line ... really anyone ... because I had the overwhelming, I-conquered-the-world feeling ... I was done with Christmas shopping one week early (Yes, if I say it enough times, I will be motivated to do the same thing this year!!).

The cashier rang up my purchases, informed me there was an issue with the gift cards, and asked me to grab some new ones. I handed them over, and she gave me my total amount. Now ... I am not sure if everyone does this, but I add up my purchases in stores as I go along. I am not always on my game, but by my estimation, the amount she was telling me was $200 over what my total should have been. Now, I totally looked the part of a harried, clueless mom. Yoga pants, oversized sweatshirt, and even though I was wearing a hat you could probably still see diaper cream in my hair left over from when I wrestled my daughter into a new diaper and outfit so we could leave the house with at least one of us looking presentable.

My brain went into analyze mode ... I knew something wasn’t right and asked to see the receipt. I immediately counted up all the gift cards, and saw 12 gift cards instead of 8. I next asked for the gift cards and began matching the serial numbers on the gift cards to those on the receipt (hey, I did my share of time in retail, this was easy!). At this point, the cashier and the woman behind me in line (who originally was going ga-ga over my daughter) was telling me that she was sure things were fine, and a lot of people had to check out ... which started the guy behind her saying stuff, and you know how that goes.

I stood my place in line, because I knew something was not right. A manager came over and escorted me to the guest services counter with the cashier. On the way over, the cashier dropped two gift cards, which I picked up and presented to the manager. I was then questioned, because only 10 gift cards could be located ... I offered for them to check my bags (which they did ... and it was all clear, big surprise. After 10 minutes, I was given the correct cards and told everything looked okay. I bluntly asked the manager if the cashier was stealing from me.

The answer ... yes.

She had pocketed four of my gift cards and tried to get me to pay for them twice. The store has video cameras on every cashier, so once we went over the whole story, (especially with the two gift cards she tried to drop), they were able to figure out what happened.

I felt so incredibly violated. She knew I was an easy target –- Christmas hustle, being distracted by a little one, and buying a shopping cart full of items. She was stealing from me. The manager did not immediately believe me that something was wrong as well, and checked MY bags.

I asked the manager what would have happened if I did not realize this before I walked out of the store ... I was told that once it was figured out, they would have opened up an investigation and reached out to any customer who was at the register who purchased a gift card through their credit card company. If it were cash, I would have been out of luck.

I was so angry when I imagined our niece, one of my kid’s teachers, or even worse, someone from the shelter, going to the store, getting excited to buy something, and then having a gift card which didn’t work. Then months later, I would have maybe been notified that something was wrong with the purchase.

I called the police and the store’s corporate headquarters. Pretty much, I was told that this can happen, and that was about it. I told the company that I would share this experience with everyone I possibly could so that it did not happen again. Last year, I emailed my friends after this incident happened to warn them ... this year, since I have a blog, I want to get the word out to as many people as possible so you could hopefully avoid a similar situation. If you are buying gift cards, please avoid holiday shopping scams by doing the following:

  1. Purchase your gift cards separately from the rest of your shopping order so you can easily keep track of the amount of money you are spending.

  2. Check the amount that is on each card on your receipt before leaving the store.

  3. Try to buy gift cards using credit cards wherever possible.

  4. If the store has a gift card reader, do an extra check before you leave the store. Once you walk out ... the process becomes more of a nightmare!

I hope this helps make sure that no one else is affected by a holiday shopping scam like this, and I hope that everyone has a magical holiday season (especially one where you can finish your holiday shopping early!!!).

 

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