TOLEDO (WTOL) - Every year you hear the warnings; beware of gift card scams.

Scammers can take money right off of the cards you give away to loved ones. You could purchase a $100 gift card, but when they go to use it, nothing is there.

According to the Better Business Bureau, retailers expect to sell $30 billion in gift cards this season. These can be really popular because they take the stress out of choosing the perfect gift. However, if you decide to go the gift card route this year, you may want to be aware of what these scammers are doing, and how you can protect yourself.

Here is how the scam works:

  • The culprit will take a card off of the rack and take a picture of the card’s numbers. 
  • They then scratch off the strip to reveal security codes. 
  • Once they get these codes, they put a replacement strip back on the card and leave the store. 
  • Scammers often have software that will keep checking the card’s balanced, so when that card is purchased for real, they get an alert that money has been loaded onto it. 

The good news is, a lot of stores are aware of this, and some have safeguards to prevent this from happening.

There are also steps you can take to protect yourself from this type of fraudulent activity.

Here is what BBB suggests:

  • Buy gift cards online - The FBI suggests buying these directly from the retailer. Criminals don’t have easy access to these cards like they do in brick-and-mortar stores. 
  • Be careful when buying in-store racked cards - Cards out in the open make it easy to access PIN numbers and security codes. Look for gift cards kept behind the counter or in well-sealed packaging.
  • If you can, change the card’s security code immediately - The BBB suggests registering the card right when you get home, change the PIN and don’t forget to tell the person you are giving it to what you did. Encourage them to use it sooner rather than later!
  • You can often get stolen funds back - Places that use botnet can detect small amounts of fraudulent activity that slip through their net. They can often distinguish between real purchases and those that are fraudulent. If your card is drained, try calling the issuer
  • Use the card right away - Billions of dollars in gift cards from last Christmas have yet to be redeemed! Many cards can get lost or are forgotten or a company goes out of business. Make sure you use your card promptly to get the full value. 

Gift cards can be a great, convenient present for the holidays. Make sure you are keeping your gifts safe, so your money doesn’t go to waste.