Manitoba

Thieves targeting prepaid gift cards in new scam, police say

Winnipeg police are urging people to take a close look at any prepaid gift cards or prepaid credit cards they buy this holiday season.

'The scammer will repeatedly try to use the credit card [or gift card] until one day it's activated'

The packages, not the cards themselves, are scanned to activate the cards, police say. (CBC)

Winnipeg police are urging people to take a close look at any prepaid gift cards or prepaid credit cards they buy this holiday season.

A new scam has surfaced in which thieves steal cards, remove them from the packaging and then put in an old or useless card just to occupy the space. The package is then put back on the rack in the store.

Eventually, someone will buy that package with the phony card inside.

The packages, not the cards themselves, contain the magnetic strip to activate the prepaid card. A cashier will scan the package, which activates the stolen card instead, police explained. 

"The scammer will repeatedly try to use the credit card [or gift card] until one day it's activated and then they'll drain the funds from it," said Const. Jay Murray.

He doesn't believe police have any record of this scam happening last year but have been getting more and more reports of it lately.

There is no concrete data on those thefts yet, but anecdotally, many officers have come across it while working in retail stores on special duty, Murray said.

The police expect to be criticized by some people for providing the information on how the scam works, bringing it to the attention of people who might want to commit the crime, Murray said.

"But we want to make people aware before the problem gets worse," he said. "We believe it's very important for people to protect themselves and we want everyone to not be taken by surprise when they open these prepaid cards, especially if they're Christmas gifts."

Just take a close look at the packaging before you purchase a card, Murray advised.

Reports of tampered prepaid gift cards can be made to the Winnipeg Police Service, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the seller of the card.

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