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El Cajon cops see more gift card scams and debit card skimmers

Will cashiers put cards behind the register?

Amanda Stills in the El Cajon police video
Amanda Stills in the El Cajon police video

On May 17, the El Cajon Police Department informed their 21,000-plus Instagram followers of the trending "Gift Card Scam" happening at big box stores around the country — including San Diego County.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2022 alone, consumers reported 48,800 cases of gift card fraud, reaching more than $228 million in total losses.

But "it’s almost entirely unreported!" continues the El Cajon cops in the PSA Instagram post, as some recipients of the gift cards don't utilize the gift cards, and others don't want to embarrass the gifters after they tried using the compromised, zero-balance cards.

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Thieves steal gift cards in bulk from big box stores.

The gift card scam goes like this: the thieves steal gift cards in bulk from big box stores. They then retrieve the gift card numbers and the accompanying pin numbers by scratching the cards to reveal their secret PINs. The thieves cover up the exposed PINs with stickers or glue the gift cards to the packaging, making it difficult for others to see the scratched PINs. Afterward, the thieves return to the stores and put the now-manipulated cards back on the gift card display racks.

"When you purchase these previously stolen gift cards (which were just activated), the criminal is notified and using the funds before you leave the store," explained Amanda Stills of the El Cajon police in the recently posted IG video.

Stills then shows on the video examples of altered Target cards "With the AMEX cards, make sure the number on the card matches the number on the box."

The Instagram post went viral, and the comment section was engaging, including responses from the El Cajon cops. A Heather suggested: "They need to keep them behind the registers or lock them up and only open [them] when someone asks for it. Like they do other stuff in stores." Her reply garnered 396 likes. A person who goes by Lynn4 replied in part to Heather, "I don't think the cashier with a line of customers is going to be happy looking for a gift card that's not been displayed on the kiosk!"

The El Cajon Police exposed another type of card fraud, which involves debit and EBT cards, a month before.

In 2023, El Cajon found more than 12 debit/EBT card skimmers in their city as a result of an "uptick in these crimes," continuing the national trend last year when debit card skimming rose 368 percent compared to 2021 — according to FICO.com.

"Technology has come a long way, but so have criminals," says Stills in an April Instagram video. "They've gotten so smart it takes them approximately four seconds to apply one of these skimmers to your checkout machine at any of your local retailers, and they don't even have to come back to retrieve them. They're Bluetooth, and they're stealing your information in a matter of seconds." In the video, Stills holds up a skimmer, a replica cover of a Walmart ATM point of sale machine. "So when you are at a checkout stand, one of the ways to make sure you are not going to be a victim of a skim is to pull on the top of the skimmer; if it's fake, it'll pop right off. And if you look, you'll notice it is almost identical and nearly impossible to tell that it is fake." She added that retailers usually place stickers on top of the legitimate card scanners and look out for the stickers.

El Cajon local Valdez JoJem was taken for $600 when she used a PayPal debit card on a machine with an attached skimmer. "They did an investigation on their end in PayPal, but they’re not believing me," she said to me in a recent interview. "I did [make] the police report right away, and I requested the police investigator to look at the video in the bank, but they told me there’s no video, so I don’t know why the Bank of America did not have it (the video)."

Another resident Megan Kay had better luck when her debit card was skimmed. "I worked with Bank of America, and I had to call them, and it was about a 20-minute phone call, and they credited to my account in a day or so. They went on to do an investigation, and about two months, I got a letter saying the refund would not be revoked."

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Amanda Stills in the El Cajon police video
Amanda Stills in the El Cajon police video

On May 17, the El Cajon Police Department informed their 21,000-plus Instagram followers of the trending "Gift Card Scam" happening at big box stores around the country — including San Diego County.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2022 alone, consumers reported 48,800 cases of gift card fraud, reaching more than $228 million in total losses.

But "it’s almost entirely unreported!" continues the El Cajon cops in the PSA Instagram post, as some recipients of the gift cards don't utilize the gift cards, and others don't want to embarrass the gifters after they tried using the compromised, zero-balance cards.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Thieves steal gift cards in bulk from big box stores.

The gift card scam goes like this: the thieves steal gift cards in bulk from big box stores. They then retrieve the gift card numbers and the accompanying pin numbers by scratching the cards to reveal their secret PINs. The thieves cover up the exposed PINs with stickers or glue the gift cards to the packaging, making it difficult for others to see the scratched PINs. Afterward, the thieves return to the stores and put the now-manipulated cards back on the gift card display racks.

"When you purchase these previously stolen gift cards (which were just activated), the criminal is notified and using the funds before you leave the store," explained Amanda Stills of the El Cajon police in the recently posted IG video.

Stills then shows on the video examples of altered Target cards "With the AMEX cards, make sure the number on the card matches the number on the box."

The Instagram post went viral, and the comment section was engaging, including responses from the El Cajon cops. A Heather suggested: "They need to keep them behind the registers or lock them up and only open [them] when someone asks for it. Like they do other stuff in stores." Her reply garnered 396 likes. A person who goes by Lynn4 replied in part to Heather, "I don't think the cashier with a line of customers is going to be happy looking for a gift card that's not been displayed on the kiosk!"

The El Cajon Police exposed another type of card fraud, which involves debit and EBT cards, a month before.

In 2023, El Cajon found more than 12 debit/EBT card skimmers in their city as a result of an "uptick in these crimes," continuing the national trend last year when debit card skimming rose 368 percent compared to 2021 — according to FICO.com.

"Technology has come a long way, but so have criminals," says Stills in an April Instagram video. "They've gotten so smart it takes them approximately four seconds to apply one of these skimmers to your checkout machine at any of your local retailers, and they don't even have to come back to retrieve them. They're Bluetooth, and they're stealing your information in a matter of seconds." In the video, Stills holds up a skimmer, a replica cover of a Walmart ATM point of sale machine. "So when you are at a checkout stand, one of the ways to make sure you are not going to be a victim of a skim is to pull on the top of the skimmer; if it's fake, it'll pop right off. And if you look, you'll notice it is almost identical and nearly impossible to tell that it is fake." She added that retailers usually place stickers on top of the legitimate card scanners and look out for the stickers.

El Cajon local Valdez JoJem was taken for $600 when she used a PayPal debit card on a machine with an attached skimmer. "They did an investigation on their end in PayPal, but they’re not believing me," she said to me in a recent interview. "I did [make] the police report right away, and I requested the police investigator to look at the video in the bank, but they told me there’s no video, so I don’t know why the Bank of America did not have it (the video)."

Another resident Megan Kay had better luck when her debit card was skimmed. "I worked with Bank of America, and I had to call them, and it was about a 20-minute phone call, and they credited to my account in a day or so. They went on to do an investigation, and about two months, I got a letter saying the refund would not be revoked."

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