Gift cards are one quick way to get through your last-minute holiday shopping list. But before you give (and get) gift cards, here are a few things you need to know.

  • Inspect gift cards before you buy. A gift card should have all its protective stickers in place. Report the card to the store if anything looks scratched off or damaged.
  • When you buy, save the receipt. Keeping the gift card receipt can be helpful if you run into problems with the card.
  • Treat gift cards like cash. Report a lost or stolen gift card to the card’s issuer immediately. Most card issuers have toll-free numbers you can find online to report a lost or stolen card. Depending on the card issuer, you may even be able to get some money back.
  • Buy gift cards from sources you know and trust. Think twice about buying gift cards from online auction sites, to avoid buying fake or stolen cards.
  • Read the gift card’s terms and conditions. Know the deal you’re getting with gift cards. For example, are there fees every time it gets used – or if it sits unused?

And here’s the most important gift card tip of all:

  • Remember that gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Gift cards are a scammer’s favorite way to steal people’s money. Anyone who demands that you pay them with a gift card, for any reason, is always a scammer. This includes calls from imposters claiming to be a family member with an emergency, calls from the IRS and Social Security, law enforcement, and utility companies. Simply put, never pay with a gift card.

Report gift card scams directly with the card issuer (use this list of phone numbers and emails), then report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. For more information, visit ftc.gov/giftcards, and check out this video.

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