Gift cards can be a convenient, no-miss way to show some love. Those who receive them have the flexibility of purchasing exactly what they want. Trouble is, if they don’t spend it all at once, they might be in for a big surprise when they go back to finish it off.

Increasingly, scammers are “draining” gift cards — sucking up remaining balances, leaving the receiver shocked that they have no money left on the card.

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How can you protect yourself?

  • Use your card: “After not using the card for one year (inactivity), you can be charged a fee once per month. This is the chief way a card could be drained,” says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action in Washington, D.C. “Use gift cards within the first year. Also write down the information about your card and keep it at home; in case the physical card is lost, you can still use it online.”
  • Know how the game is played: A card you purchase could be drained even before you use it. “This can happen when someone steals inactivated cards from a retailer, copies the numbers and puts them back at the store. Then when they are sold and activated with the customer’s money, the scammers have all the info they need to use the cards,” Sherry says.
  • Inspect and register your card: Is everything intact? Be leery if there’s a sticker covering the redemption code. This can be a clue that the card has been tampered with. When you register and use your card on the retailer’s website, you’ll be better able to track it and spot any funny business quicker.