From the Charlotte Observer ...
Beware of fraud in holiday cards by NICHOLE MONROE BELL
If you're planning to buy a gift card for a friend or loved one this holiday season, beware.
The cards are more popular than ever among shoppers eager to give a gift that is flexible but more personal than cash. But increasingly, criminals are stealing blank cards and selling them online or tampering with them on the rack, leaving innocent -- and often embarrassed -- gift recipients at the checkout with worthless plastic.
The scams are a new form of fraud that has become a growing concern of retailers and shoppers as more department stores, restaurants and supermarkets offer gift cards as a way to increase sales, bring in first-time shoppers and build brand loyalty. Gift card sales make up about 4 percent of the $435 billion in holiday spending nationally, according to the National Retail Federation. More than two-thirds of the consumers the group surveyed said they planned to purchase at least one gift card for the holidays, making up about 16 percent of the average consumer's holiday gift budget.
And because the cards are so widely available, to thieves they can be as good as cash.
Some thieves steal cards directly from the stores and sell them online below face value to buyers who think they're getting a bargain. Other crooks buy gift cards using stolen credit cards or counterfeit checks as a way of shifting to a less traceable form of payment ...