Gift cards are always a holiday gift favorite but some consumers purchasing Vanilla Visa cards have run into the Grinch.
Renee Venezia, a woman living in Irvine, California, told her story about losing funds on her Vanilla Visa gift card to ABC News. Venezia had received a $500 gift card from her mother last year and was planning to save it for a recent trip she had planned.
However, when she handed the freshly sealed, never-been-used gift card to the clerk at the hotel she was checking into, it was declined. The hotel informed her that the card had a $0.00 balance.
After reaching out to InComm Financial Services, the company that owns Vanilla Gift Cards, Venezia learned that the card had been wiped clean over a year ago, and according to their report, the card was present at the time of the purchase.
Venezia said she explained that was impossible – the card had been in her possession since she received it, and it hadn’t been removed from the packaging.
While InComm was quick to dismiss her issue, Venezia learned that scammers have been known to pull the serial number off the packaging of gift cards and use that to spend the money that was pre-loaded onto them. With the serial number, it’s easy to get the rest of the gift card information, without the recipient of the gift card ever knowing – or using the gift card.
A well-known scam
Venezia isn’t the only person who’s been scammed thieves robbing Visa Vanilla gift cards. Similar stories have emerged as recently as a few weeks ago, while others have been circulating for months.
Back in May 2022, Tom Vinci in North Carolina bought six $100 Visa gift cards for family members. Half of them had been completely depleted of funds before the recipients had been given them.
After sharing his experience on social media, Vinci learned that plenty of others had similar stories. They all circled back to what Venezia learned: scammers go into stores, take pictures of the activation information on the back of the gift card, and then leave the gift card on the rack.
This has been easy to accomplish because the packaging of the gift cards looks pristine. Scammers are able to get the information they need from the outside of the package, and then leave the wholly intact gift card for someone to purchase. However, when they do, the gift card has been fully wiped clean of funds.
How to avoid these scams
With the holidays right around the corner, it’s prime time for consumers to buy gift cards. How can you go about safely buying gift cards and ensuring the recipient receives all of the promised funds?
According to Venezia, she recommends that consumers either stick to cash, or that gift cards are used as soon as possible after opening.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has three major tips for consumers who are thinking of purchasing gift cards – either for the holidays or beyond.
For starters, buy from stores that you trust, and avoid any auction sites or websites that look misleading. The FTC also recommends doing a thorough check of the gift card before officially purchasing it. If any vital information is visible on the back of the gift card, it’s best not to buy it, as it could be susceptible to these kinds of scams.
Lastly, it’s best to keep either the gift card’s ID number or the receipt from your purchase. In the event of any incidents, this is the best way to file a report or have any chance at getting money back.
GiftCards.com also has some practical advice for consumers: pick gift cards that are harder to reach or in the middle of the stack of gift cards. Scammers are likely to go for the ones in the front that are easy to quickly grab and put back. However, the ones that are further away or harder to get to are likely to be avoided for these kinds of scams, which can help ensure that funds are safe and secure on the card.