7 on Your Side helps Marin County woman replace stolen Visa gift cards

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- You want to give money as a gift. But is it best to put it on a gift card? A Marin County woman says, maybe not, and 7 On Your Side has an important warning.

With billions of dollars pumped onto gift cards every year, they have become a popular target for thieves. And the more they are used, the more ways crooks find to steal them.

Susan Anderson gave gift cards to friends on the east coast last Christmas. So, why are they here at her home in Marin County? "I wrapped them. I put them under the tree," Anderson said.

Anderson had loaded $100 onto each card, then delivered them in person. But, when her friends tried to use them, they didn't work.

"They were told the money had been used before they even received the gift cards," Anderson said.

It turns out that a thief in Oakdale, California had drained the money before the friends even opened their gifts.

"I'm not sure how it happened, but I thought it was very unfair," said Anderson.

Susan contacted Visa, who told her, "it's your problem because you have only 30 or 60 days to report any issues."

Visa said she had to report fraud within 60 days of buying the card. But, she thought they were safe.

"I got the activation code; I kept my receipt, also made sure the casing was fully intact and not tampered with," Anderson said.

Still, someone got the money off the cards.

"It's not fair to sell a card that you can't make sure is safe. Most people buy gift card because they think it's safer than cash when in reality I think it's less safe," Anderson said.

She contacted 7 On Your Side. We asked Visa how a thief can steal money off someone else's card.

A common way is for a thief to take a blank gift card off a store rack, copy the card number, then puts the blank card back on the rack. When a customer loads money onto it, the thief uses the stolen numbers to drain the money.

We looked at the packaging on Susan's cards-this flap opens to reveal the bar code. Maybe it was scanned and reproduced?

"It looked completely closed but I have no way of knowing," Anderson said.

VISA issued a statement on the case. "While we cannot control every aspect of the purchase of a gift card, we do all we can to work with issuing partners and merchants to ensure that consumers are protected."

However, Visa agreed to replace her gift cards after all. "We apologize for any difficulty Ms. Anderson experienced when reporting the fraud. Protecting consumer funds is a top priority."

Luckily, 7 On Your side helped because now hopefully other people will learn about this," Anderson said.

So, how can you be sure your gift card is safe? First make sure the package is intact. Choose a card from the middle of the rack. And with many bank cards, you can create a pin number right away to avoid anyone using it.

Watch the video in the player above to see how 7 on Your Side and Michael Finney helped.
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