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Gift card scam could ruin your relaxing getaway, spa warns

A spa in Chelsea, Que., is warning customers about a gift card scam that could ruin their attempts to find rest and relaxation.

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says scammers reselling cards to cash in on stolen banking info

Marianne Trotier, director of public and media relations, says guests have been turning up at the spa in Chelsea, Que. with gift certificates they bought online — only to find out that the seller had purchased the certificate with a stolen credit card. 0:58

A spa in Chelsea, Que., is warning customers about a gift card scam that could ruin their attempts to find rest and relaxation.

Nordik Spa-Nature says it's seeing customers trying to redeem gift cards purchased through buy-and-sell site Kijiji from third parties who obtained them using stolen credit card information.

Once those fraudulent transactions are detected and cancelled, however, the gift card is rendered useless.

Spa spokesperson Marianne Trotier said sometimes guests show up at the front desk, cards in hand — only to discover they're worthless.

"We think it's really unfortunate," Trotier said. 

"The person that actually purchased the gift certificate from the third party is the first victim, as they don't have access to the spa since we cancelled the transaction."

Marianne Trotier, spokesperson for Nordik Spa-Nature, said the spa has seen disappointed customers trying to redeem gift cards that were bought with stolen credit card information. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Trotier said it's been happening once or twice a week during the busy winter months.

She said Nordik sometimes also discovers fraudulent cards only after they've been redeemed, leaving the business on the hook.

"We're losing money. Of course, when we know that [a gift card was purchased illegally], we cancel all the transactions after that with that same card," she said.

"Then it's the people who purchased that card on Kijiji who are the losers."

Red flags

Trotier said there's little Nordik can do to notify those buyers about the fraud, though the spa has implemented industry-standard prevention practices and looks at "every transaction."

She said spa staff look for red flags such as discrepancies in billing and delivery addresses, or warnings the card has been used in other suspicious transactions.

"The fraudsters will use stolen credit cards any which way they can to try to monetize the good cards," said Jeff Thomson, senior RCMP intelligence officer with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

The scammers use stolen credit card information to purchase gift cards online, over the phone or by mail.

Selling the cards to unsuspecting buyers lets them keep some of their ill-gotten loot, Thomson said, even after the fraudulent purchases are detected and the transactions cancelled.

Thomson said the scam affects businesses of all types and sizes.

Jeff Thomson is senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Canada-wide scam

According to the the Canadian Bankers Association, these so-called "card-not-present" scams represent the bulk of credit card fraud in Canada.

The association said financial institutions reimbursed $862 million to Canadian customers in 2018, and card-not-present fraud accounted for nearly 80 per cent of those losses.

As for those wanting peace of mind for their next spa getaway, Trotier recommended buying gift cards directly from trusted sellers — or directly from Nordik.

Nordik Spa-Nature in Chelsea, Que., is warning customers that buying gift cards on sites like Kijji may not lead to the relaxing visit they want. 4:45

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