Holiday shopping alert: How to avoid gift card scams

What you need to know this season


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," December 17, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

STUART VARNEY, GUEST HOST: You swipe, they strike -- 80 percent of holiday shoppers snatching up gift cards this year, and don't scammers know it. Now they're coming up with new ways to rip you off.

To security analyst Robert Siciliano on what to look out for.

All right, Robert, I have my own list...


VARNEY: ... actually on what to look out for. First and foremost, I'm especially caution of discounted gift cards that may be at auction sites. I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. Would you?

SICILIANO: Yes, certainly, you don't know who is behind them, used cards. You don't know if they have been scratched or debted. Usually, you want to do business with those who you know, who you like and who you trust with established reputations.

VARNEY: OK. And I would beware of unsolicited web offers coming at me in the mail or something like that or on the web. I wouldn't -- again, wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole.

SICILIANO: Yes. Certainly, if you receive an e-mail that has a "too good to be true" offer for a gift card or even a pop-up, for that matter, chances are it's a scam.

VARNEY: Is it really common, though? I mean, we're making a big deal out of this, but are the scammers really out there looking at gift cards in particular?

SICILIANO: There are bad guys out there in full force 24/7, 365, especially this time of the year. And gift cards are a form of cash, and, ultimately, they know that they can turn that opportunity into cash for themselves. So we definitely have to be on the lookout.

VARNEY: Now, here's what really worries me.

I would never give any kind of personal information in return for a gift card, because I don't just lose money with that. I could lose -- it's identity theft, that's -- that is what is wrapped up in that.

SICILIANO: Correct. You know, you should not be giving out, say, a Social Security number in exchange for a gift card. Sometimes, there might be contests of some sort that might ask for additional personal information, names, addresses, phone numbers, and so forth. Generally, if you're going to buy a gift card, it might require a credit card number, and that's about it.

VARNEY: Am I right in saying that some of these stores, like a retailer, who offers these gift cards, they keep the money if the gift card is not used; you don't get it back in any way, shape or form?

SICILIANO: Well, you do need to look at the terms of service, the terms and conditions with each card, making sure that they are -- that they don't expire...


SICILIANO: ... that you use it before that might occur, and make sure that you're doing business with a reputable store that isn't essentially going to cancel that card on you within six months.

VARNEY: So, wrap it up for me here. Should I really be that worried?

SICILIANO: So, I don't worry about any of this stuff.

But what I do is, I make sure that my -- my P.C. has updated antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-fishing, and a firewall. I only do business with organizations that I know, like and trust. Generally, I buy from like Amazon or Best Buy or something like that, that I know. Other than that, use those debit cards quickly in case bad guys do have access to the information on them.

VARNEY: We got it. All right, Robert Siciliano, we thank you very much for joining us, sir. Appreciate it. Thank you.

SICILIANO: Thank you.

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