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Buying a gift card this holiday season? Tips on how to avoid schemes

Gift cards are a popular holiday present. Buy and gift them wisely to save money and avoid fraud.

SAN ANTONIO — One big advantage of gift cards is that you can stay within your budget and the recipient can get what they want. It can be a win-win situation for both the giver and the recipient. 

But, schemers love gift cards as much we do, so below is how to get the best bang for your buck and make sure that money goes to your loved one, and not in a fraudster’s pocket.

December is the time to get gift cards. Many retailers and restaurants offer bonus cards, helping you stretch your dollars. Just know bonus cards can have restrictions, so do not let them expire.

“It usually can be used the day after the initial promotion ends and then maybe a few weeks or a few months after that,” said Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with Dealnews.com. “It’s just something to keep in mind when you do get these things.”

Warehouse clubs offer gift card discounts between 20-30%.

“What is nice is that in a bulk gift pack, you can break those up and give those to multiple people on your list,” said Andrea Woroch, a smart saving expert. “So, you’re kind of also checking off several gift recipients at once while saving money.”

Or, buy gift cards at a reduced cost on gift card resale sites like Raise.com.

“The amount you save is really going to vary,” Woroch said. “It could be anywhere from 2%, 3% off, up to 28% or 25% off, depending on the gift card. So obviously, a really popular gift card like a Target gift card, you’re not going to see as many savings, but maybe a gift card to a restaurant or a smaller retailer can get you a bigger bang for your buck.”

Stack the savings by going to a coupon site and getting promo codes for additional saving at the discount gift card websites.

Schemers also enjoy gift cards because they work like cash. If you buy gift cards in-store, there is a chance a fraudster could have tampered with them. That will leave a $0 balance on the card. It is best to skip the first few cards on the rack.

“If you’re going to buy one in a retail store, maybe think about pulling those cards off the rack and maybe grabbing one from the back," said Kathy Stokes, the director of fraud prevention at AARP.

That will reduce the chance a fraudster tampered with the card you buy.

Or, purchase digital a gift card and send them directly to your loved one so schemers never see it. Digital gift cards also make great last-minute gifts because they arrive instantly.

A few other tips: Register your gift cards so you can see the value on the card online. Plus, do not wait too long to use gift cards.  

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