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With the holiday season comes more shopping and with more shopping comes more scams and fraudsters looking to take advantage of your holiday goodwill.

From supposed charities looking for “donations” to balances that are empty even though you haven’t used them yet, gift cards are a big item in the world of scams. They are used in a variety of common tricks and, because they do not come with the same protection as a credit card or bank account, often leaving people high and dry when it’s time to try to get their money back.

Even the most tech and street-savvy of us can easily fall victim to these schemes if we aren’t paying close attention. The Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice and multiple state officials have already issued warnings this season about some of the most common red flags to watch out for.

Don’t give a scammer the gift of your Christmas funds this season. Instead, stay aware and keep these tips in mind.

Card draining

As previously reported by USA TODAY, gift card draining happens when fraudsters can gain access to physical copies of the cards in stores. They tamper with gift cards, using a reader to scan an unpurchased card’s number and record it. When that card is actually purchased and activated, they redeem the loaded funds with the stolen number. Some have devices that allow them to replace the silver strip that is scratched off to redeem a card, while others choose cards that come in envelopes so you cannot see they’ve been scratched until it’s too late.

Scammers may also pull gift cards off the shelves and take them elsewhere, replacing them with other decoy items. After gathering information from them, they replace the now tampered-with cards on the shelves for people to purchase and load with money.

Once the cards are drained, the purchaser or recipient of the card is left with an empty balance.

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