Scam Spotlight: Two Holiday Threats to Watch

As you travel, shop, or go about your merry way this holiday season, staying alert and aware of common seasonal scams is important. There is typically an uptick in fraud and related threats this time of year, and cyber criminals develop new twists on tried-and-true tactics designed to exploit.

Authorities have recently issued warnings about two prevalent nationwide threats affecting consumers: undetectable card skimmers at gas pumps and ATM machines and physical gift card scams at many popular retailers. Spotlighting these aims to increase awareness of the risks they pose and what you can do to lessen your chances of falling victim.

Undetectable Card Skimmers: A Year-Round Travel Threat

 There have been recent warnings related to a concerning trend in card skimming technology. This has been a constant threat for consumers at the gas pump for years but has typically been relatively easy to spot for the discerning eye. A keypad out of sorts or an altered element at the pump was a clear giveaway that a criminal may have installed a skimmer to gather credit card information. For anyone unfamiliar, a skimmer is a small electronic device designed to swipe personal information associated with a credit card, with the criminal intent being to use that information to commit fraud or steal money outright.

The recent twist is that almost “undetectable” skimmers are now posing a new risk that is nearly impossible to spot. These skimmers are so small and effective that they are also installed at ATMs and other public places where debit and credit cards are used. Since these skimmers operate silently without revealing any signs of tampering with the machines in use, they are proving highly effective at their intended purpose.

To safeguard yourself from this evolving threat, consider implementing the following tips:

  • Cover the keypad when entering your PIN at an ATM or gas pump to prevent hidden cameras in the skimmers from capturing the number. This is good advice even when a skimmer isn’t suspected, as it can also prevent onlookers from seeing your PIN.
  • Use cash when electronic payments seem risky, as there is no risk in compromising personal information with direct cash transactions.
  • Consider using a credit card instead of a debit card for transactions at the pump. Credit cards often offer greater protection against fraudulent charges, and you should have the option to dispute unauthorized transactions.
  • If you prefer to use a debit card, keep the balance in your checking account low. Transferring more money to savings or another account not associated with your debit card limits the chances of a thief clearing your account if data is gathered from a skimmer.
  • Link your cards to secure payment apps like Apple Pay or Google Pay. These apps use advanced security features, providing a more secure way to transact.
  • Sign up for identity theft and fraud restoration services to limit negative impacts associated with compromised personal information.

Physical Gift Card Scams: Unwrapping the Deception

Another growing threat during the holiday season is physical gift card scams. People across the country are falling victim to this threat at an alarming rate, even those who consider themselves smart and cautious shoppers. This is another example of a scam that has been around for a while and continues to be highly effective as criminals adapt and improve tactics.

The basis of this one involves fraudsters tampering with gift cards on store racks, manipulating the coating that protects the PIN. Unsuspecting shoppers then purchase these compromised cards, only to have the recipient find them useless when attempting to use them. As this scam is commonly known, card draining is also becoming more prevalent, with one recent bust of over 5,000 stolen gift cards putting the risks on full display. The money consumers place on these gift cards at the checkout counter is typically drained to an offshore account within seconds, demonstrating the sophistication and effectiveness in action.

This card-draining scam isn’t always as big of a risk for compromised personal information, as the primary intent of the criminals behind it is to steal the funds loaded on the cards rather than data. But the threat remains of potential identity theft and lost finances, so it’s always best to assume the worst possible outcome and work to avoid the scam.

To safeguard against physical gift card scams, consider these preventative measures:

  • Thoroughly inspect gift cards before purchasing them. Look for any signs of tampering, such as scratches or exposed PIN areas. If in doubt, choose a different card.
  • Only purchase gift cards that have a sealed protective cover that is unaltered in any way. Ensure the tape covering the PIN is intact.
  • Purchase gift cards online from trusted retailers to minimize risk. Online transactions often come with additional security measures to reduce the likelihood of encountering compromised cards.
  • Report suspected tampering to store personnel immediately if you notice any signs of alteration. This can alert management or employees to the issue, and the altered cards can be removed before more victims are affected.
  • Unfortunately, avoiding the use of gift cards may be the only surefire way to safeguard yourself from this scam.

Final Thoughts

As the holiday season unfolds, staying informed and adopting proactive measures is crucial to protecting yourself from evolving scams. Whether it’s the emerging threat of undetectable card skimmers or the deceptive in-store tactics of physical gift card scams, vigilance is your best defense. By incorporating these tips into your holiday shopping routine, you can better ensure a secure experience. Knowledge continues to be power in the grand scheme of identity theft and fraud prevention, and a little caution goes a long way in safeguarding your financial well-being during the holidays.


LibertyID provides expert, full-service, fully managed identity theft restoration to individuals, couples, extended families* and businesses. LibertyID has a 100% success rate in resolving all forms of identity fraud on behalf of our subscribers.

*LibertyID defines an extended family as you, your spouse/partner, your parents and parents-in-law, and your children under the age of 25.