Scam alert: How criminals can steal money off your gift cards

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Scam alert: How criminals can steal money off your gift cards
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Money expert Clark Howard doesn’t like gift cards because you take money that can be used anywhere and turn it into “fake money” that can only be used at one place.

And now there’s another reason to avoid buying the popular last-minute Christmas gift!

RELATED: Do NOT buy these gift cards this holiday season

Gift card scam: What you need to know to avoid becoming a victim

Consumer Reports issued a warning about a sneaky scam that allows criminals to drain the money off gift cards before the recipient has a chance to spend it.

How are thieves able to do it? There are actually multiple ways to hack gift cards.

The first scam is quite simple. The crook picks up a gift card from a store, jots down the account number, scratches off the strip to reveal the security code and then leaves the store — without the card.

When someone buys the card and loads money onto it, the hacker gets an alert and drains the card ASAP.

The second scam targets the websites where people access their gift card balances, according to Consumer Reports. Hackers are able to rapidly test gift card account numbers and PINs until they find one with a money balance.

A cybersecurity expert told NBC News that he was capable of hacking Nordstorm and gaining access to gift cards:

Although Nordstrom says it fixed the flaw the cybersecurity expert told NBC News about, Consumer Reports has some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of this scam:

  1. Buy gift cards online directly from the retailer since criminals can’t easily access them
  2. Avoid purchasing gift cards from in-store racks; look for gift cards kept behind the counter

If you end up buying a gift card from a rack, flip it over and inspect the package for tampering. If the security code is exposed, that’s a huge red flag!

RELATED: The one and only exception to Clark Howard’s ‘no gift card’ rule

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Michael Timmermann paid off his mortgage in two years. Now, he shares his money-saving tips on his blog, Save on Almost Everything.
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