A former police officer is urging Canadians to be vigilant this holiday season when buying gift cards on display at retail stores, after almost falling victim to a scam involving tampered gift cards — twice.
In late October, Toronto-based fitness and public safety influencer Nichelle Laus tried to buy a $50 Winners gift card at her local Shoppers Drug Mart. But when the cashier scanned the barcode on the gift card, it showed up on the system as an Esso gas gift card.
“The cashier — she did a really good job,” Laus told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Wednesday. “She told me about the scam and she was feeling the back of it and she goes, ‘Look, this one is fake.’ I said, ‘No way!'”
Upon closer inspection of the card, Laus noticed that the texture of the barcode appeared raised. It turned out that there was a fake barcode in the form of a sticker covering the gift card’s real barcode. The fake barcode corresponded to an Esso gift card, and if the transaction had gone through, Laus would’ve paid money to load a scammer’s Esso card and been left with an empty Winners card.
“You can see it’s a white sticker. It looks like it was almost like laser printed. Like, it’s really good quality. It’s cut so precisely that you can literally lay it over the original barcode on top and you wouldn’t even notice the difference, unless you really look at it and unless you really feel it,” she explained.
After this experience, Laus said, she began the practice of running her fingers over the barcode whenever she’s buying a gift card at a retailer in order to make sure there are no stickers on the card. And this weekend, she encountered yet another tampered-with gift card at a different Shoppers Drug Mart location.
“I was buying a PlayStation card for my boys’ friend’s birthday party. And the first one I picked up, I did the same thing. I felt the back and sure enough, it was fake,” she said.
This time, the fake barcode on the $100 PlayStation card showed up as an LCBO card.
“If I didn’t notice and if the cashier didn’t notice, I’m literally loading (a scammer’s) LCBO card … and then I walk away and my card is literally a dud,” she said.
Laus’ videos explaining how she almost fell victim to these scams have been widely circulated on TikTok and Instagram. One of her TikTok videos about the scam had over two million views while her most recent video on Instagram garnered nearly one million views as of Wednesday evening.
Shoppers Drug Mart parent Loblaw told CTVNews.ca in a statement the company recognizes gift card fraud “as a problem impacting the retail sector in general” and said it’s doing what it can to fight tampering of gift cards in its stores.
“Our store’s teams are trained to recognize tampering, as well as other fraudulent situations involving the purchase of gift cards and do their best to intercept cards that may be fraudulent before they are purchased,” Loblaw said.
To avoid purchasing a gift card that has been tampered with, Laus suggests buying digital gift cards or buying a gift card directly from the store that the gift card is for, rather than buying from a retailer. But if you have to buy a gift card at a retailer, Laus said, it’s imperative to feel the barcode to make sure there’s no tampering and to check what shows up at the cash register after the card is scanned.
“Take that extra minute to not only feel the barcode on the back, try and lift it up,” she said. “If it’s an actual sticker, you’ll lift that sticker up and notice that that sticker doesn’t match the number underneath.”