TRENTON, NJ --  The Mercer County Division of Community Affairs issued a warning on Friday that shoppers need to be a bit careful when giving gift card around the holidays.

The agency said the most important thing to remember is that gift cards are just that -- gifts -- not payments.   Gift cards can be a scammer’s favorite way to steal people’s money. Anyone who demands that you pay them with a gift card, for any reason, is always a scammer, they warned. This includes calls from imposters claiming to be a family member with an emergency, calls from the IRS and Social Security, law enforcement and utility companies. 

When buying a gift card, inspect them carefully to ensure that it has all its protective stickers in place. Report the card to the store if anything looks scratched off or damaged.  Keep the receipt of purchase in case there is a problem with the card. 

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Officials also said to always be sure to buy gift cards from sources you know and trust. Think twice about buying gift cards from online auction sites, to avoid buying fake or stolen cards.  Also, be sure to read the gift card’s terms and conditions. Know the deal you’re getting with gift cards. For example, check for activation fees, transaction fees or fees if the card goes unused.

Finally, gift card recipients should treat them like cash and report a lost or stolen gift card to the card’s issuer immediately. Most card issuers have toll-free numbers you can find online to report a lost or stolen card. Depending on the card issuer, they may even offer some money back.

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