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by Deanna Ting | July 08, 2015
In June, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued an alert about a new online theft trend involving the purchase and sale of online gift cards. Thieves are using gift card exchange and auction websites, what the FBI calls Secondary Gift Card Markets, to steal money from card buyers and sellers. These websites exist to exclusively sell and buy gift cards.

Some of the traps include the following:

The victim sells a gift card on an auction site, receives payment for the sale, and sends the PIN associated with the gift card to the buyer, who then disputes the charge after using the gift card.

The victim purchases an item on an auction site and is advised by the seller to purchase gift cards to pay for the transaction. After purchasing thousands of dollars in gift cards, the victim finds out the auction transaction is a scam.

A Secondary Gift Card Market site agrees to pay a victim for a discounted merchant gift card. The victim sends the code on the gift card, and the payment for the transaction was reversed. Thus, the buyer uses the gift card code to purchase an item and stops payment to the seller.

The FBI warns consumers beware of social media postings that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards, especially sites offering deals that are simply too good to be true, such as a free $500 gift card. Some fraudulent offers may also show up as holiday promotions or contests. The fraudulent postings often look as if a friend shared the link. Often, scams direct victims to online surveys designed to steal personal information. 

The FBI recommends consumers take the following steps to protect themselves from gift card fraud:

Check Secondary Gift Card Market website reviews and only buy from or sell to reputable dealers.

Check the gift card balance before and after purchasing the card to verify the correct balance on the card.

The re-seller of a gift card is responsible for ensuring the correct balance is on the gift card, not the merchant whose name is on the gift card.

When selling a gift card through an online marketplace, do not provide the buyer with the card's PIN until the transaction is complete. Online purchases can be made using the PIN without having the physical card.

When purchasing gift cards online, be leery of auction sites selling gift cards at a discount or in bulk.

When purchasing gift cards in a store, examine the protective scratch-off area on the back of the card for any evidence of tampering.

For more information, consumers are advised to go to www.ic3.gov.