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Check for security before buying gift cards

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Between digital options and traditional plastic, gift card sales are on the rise. According to a new study by First Data, people surveyed not only purchased more cards, in 2018 they racked up an average of $59 more than the original gift card balance.

A lot of people prefer to shop for themselves with a gift card. But the physical cards that you buy off the retail kiosk can be easy marks for criminals. Scammers copy the gift card codes and then scratch off the strip on the back of the card to steal the PIN. Once you load money into the card, they use the stolen information and spend the money before you can redeem it.

To avoid buying a compromised gift card, always check the packaging for physical tampering. Make sure the protective stickers and coating are intact, and never buy any card if the PIN is revealed.

Consumer Reports money experts think a more attractive option is a reloadable, prepaid card from a credit card issuer like Visa or American Express. These issuers will typically limit your liability to $50 and sometimes zero if you report the theft within two days. An additional benefit of re-loadable cards is they're more widely accepted as a form of payment.

Digital gift cards, increasingly popular with millennials, are purchased online. They're convenient and fast because all you have to do is download the e-gift card and print, text, email or share via social media. But again, think security.

First, make sure you’re sending the digital card to the right person. Before you hit send, make sure you have the correct email address, phone number or social media account.

And since you’ll be revealing personal information about yourself and the recipient, such as email addresses and credit card numbers, only buy digital gift cards from trusted merchants.

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