How to protect the gift cards you buy at the store and online

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In past years, holiday gift card purchases have topped some 27 billion dollars. But, Consumer Reports says beware -- thieves have figured out ways to steal the money you put on gift cards. Here are some important tips to protect you and the gift cards you buy.

What's on your holiday wish list? If you said gift cards, you're not alone. About six in 10 people prefer to shop for themselves with a gift card.

"I love getting gift cards. I prefer them actually," one shopper admitted. "Usually the kids will request it," said another.

And another holiday shopper said, "Gift cards are easier."

But Consumer Reports says those physical cards for specific stores and vendors that you buy off a rack can be an easy mark for criminals. "Scammers copy the gift card codes and then they scratch off the strip on the back of the card to steal the PIN. And then once you load money into the card, they can steal from you," said Tobie Stanger, Consumer Reports Money Editor.

Consumer Reports says always check the packaging of any gift card for physical tampering. Make sure the protective stickers or coating are intact. And never buy any card if its PIN is revealed. "Consumer Reports thinks a more attractive option is to get a reloadable, prepaid card from a charge card or credit card company like Visa or American Express," said Stanger. "These issuers will limit your liability to $50 and sometimes zero if you report the theft within two days."

An additional benefit of those cards? They are more widely accepted as a form of payment.

And what about e-gift cards, the kind you purchase and send by text, email or on social media. They are convenient and fast, but are they safe? "First of all, make sure you're sending the e-gift card to the right person. Before you send it, depending on where you're sending it, get the right email address, phone number or social media account," Stanger advised.

Since you will be revealing personal information about yourself and the recipient like email addresses and credit card numbers, buy e-gift cards only from trusted merchants.

If revealing a lot of personal information concerns you, stick to the plastic cards you can buy off the rack. And be sure to keep the receipt and copy down the card numbers -- some merchants will replace a lost or stolen card with proof of purchase and the card number.

Take a look at all of 7 On Your Side's stories with Consumer Reports here.

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