Gift cards remain one of the most popular requested gifts year after year but one Calgary consumer is warning people to really look at what card they’re handing out.
Kelli Borger received a $450 The Perfect Gift Visa card following her retirement from teaching.
“It was from my friends,” she told Global News. “It was from everyone I loved and worked with.”
She held onto it, waiting for an opportunity to buy the perfect gift. But her health soon derailed any shopping trips.
“A few months into my retirement I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Shopping just fell from my mind. It just wasn’t something I was going to do.”
When she was finally able to do it, she headed out to the mall and found some cookware she wanted to purchase. She brought it up to the till and produced the gift card. That’s when she found out the funds that were supposed to be on the card — most of them anyway — were gone.
“We rip it open and the salesperson gets a coin out and scratches out the protective code,” she described. “And he puts it into his machine and he says, ‘How much did you say there was on it? There’s $78.’
“I was like a little guppie with my mouth open and I was like, ‘Well try it again.'”
The sales clerk tried several times and then contacted the number of the back of the card. The company behind the card, Blackhawk Network Canada (BHN), confirmed the balance and then began an investigation.
Borger said she was told there was a transaction already on the card for $360 for a retailer in Richmond, B.C. — one she told them she hadn’t made as she wasn’t in B.C. or even mobile at that time.
“I said in April, I was having cancer surgery and I wasn’t flying anywhere. I was in Calgary.”
She said the company then found another catch. It told her, as per its rules, customers only have up to 60 days to report any fraud.
“Because the charge had been made in April and I hadn’t said there was a problem until November, that was outside of their 60 days.
“I thought they would maybe do a bit of due diligence,” Borger said. “And I got, ‘You’re past 60 days. There’s nothing we’re going to do for you.'”
Borger tried repeatedly to get Blackhawk to change its stance but said the company remained steadfast in its refusal to refund her money.
“Although fraud is a small part of what happens in our business, we take fraud prevention seriously and strive to ensure safe gift card experiences for customers,” the company told Global News.
“While we don’t provide specific details about ongoing security or fraud prevention measures, we continually invest in new technology, package design, and best practices to protect retail partners and their customers.”
Officials also said they strive to ensure “every shopper has a great experience.” Borger contacted Global News shortly after we sent off the inquiry to inform us the company had agreed to refund her the $360 and any fees also taken off the card.
Gift card scams/fraud ramps up
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), scams and frauds involving gift cards have been going up over the past several years. The BBB has received almost 4,000 (3,918) reports of gift card payment scams since 2020.
The CAFC has had 9,259 reports with losses totalling $15.6 million.
Borger said she didn’t come to Global News necessarily to get her money back — but rather to warn others.
“It’s not about the money,” she said.
“I contacted you because I think it’s a cautionary tale. People give gift cards because they think they’re safe. And they give Visa gift cards because they really think they’re safe and they’re not.”
Preventing gift card fraud
Global News reached out to the Canadian Prepaid Providers Organization to find out more about how frauds can happen. It represents the open loop prepaid industry, which includes gift cards that carry the Visa, Mastercard and Amex brands, and officials said it remains safe to buy gift cards from reputable retailers, in-store and online.
It also provided some tips for consumers to protect gift card purchases from potential fraud:
- Treat gift cards like cash
- Only deal with reputable, established companies
- Inspect gift card packaging
- Check activation receipt
- Check balance in private and often
- If you have a problem with your gift card call customer service right away