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CARY, N.C. — Be careful if you’re thinking about buying a gift card as a Christmas or holiday present this year.

Shopping experts are warning of a scam going around this holiday season known as “gift card draining.” It’s a trick used to steal money from gift cards before you get the chance to use them.

Nicole Cordero from Better Business Bureau of Eastern Carolinas says this tactic tricks shoppers into thinking they’re adding value to the card they are buying. However, it transfers the money to the scammer instead.

“One thing scammers are doing is they are taking different barcodes [and] putting them on top of the barcodes on the back of the gift card,” Cordero said.

WRAL News asked Cordero what shoppers should do to protect themselves.

“[They are] going to have to stop and look and see if the packaging is intact,” Cordero said. “See if it’s ripped or wrinkled where the barcode is and that a scammer hasn’t been there first.

Cordero also said shoppers should run their finger over the back of the gift card to see if there’s a sticker on top.

Experts like Cordero are urging shoppers to make sure there are no scuff marks on barcodes or security codes. It could potentially save shoppers from losing hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Another helpful tip from safety experts: Purchase gift cards near the register or from behind the counter. Also, constantly check balances.

Best Buy sales advisor Pawaii Bullock explained what happens in the event a shopper becomes a victim of gift card draining.

“Once our manager gets a hold of it, we report it and we report to police and sort that out with them and figure out what to do to help our customer needs,” Bullock said.

On Wednesday, shopper Peter Richon stopped by Best Buy in Cary for some holiday shopping. He said he tries to give specific gifts or cash.

“It’s frightening,” Richon said of the latest scam. “You get a gift, and someone has spent money on it, and you go to purchase something with it and the money is gone.

“Where did it go? Someone’s already spent. [It’s] another example of financial fraud.”

A 2022 AARP survey found that nearly one in four people have given or received gift cards that had no funds on them.

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