NEW YORK CITY (NBC News) — Even Santa is exhausted from rounding up gifts in time for Christmas, and for those of us without the help of elves, gift cards are an easy last minute option.
But, buyer beware.
Cybersecurity expert Jim Stickley says it can be easy to steal gift card information and drain the balance.
“Not only can I hack those, but also the cards that are for sale right now, I can hack those when they become activated, drain the funds from them as well,” he warns.
While chip-enabled credit cards have upgraded protections, gift cards still use 1960s-era magnetic strips and pre-determined PIN numbers, and hackers are taking advantage.
There are some things you can do to protect yourself.
“Consumers should look out for gift cards that are already scratched where the pin number is exposed,” says the Federal Trade Commission’s Nick Singhvi.
Avoid buying from public racks, if possible. Experts say it’s better to buy directly from the retailer, especially if they keep their cards behind the counter and away from the public. If you do have a gift card with an issue, call the number on the back of the card instead of the retailer or looking online. Scammers can create realistic-looking customer service pages, which may create more issues if people fall for them.