TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – More than 73 percent of adults bought at least one gift card during this year’s holiday season. The cards offer options for everyone. But if you’re not careful, your card could be worthless.

Whether you’re grabbing a gift card off the shelf at a store or buying one online, you need to beware of fraud.

Schemers can use skimmers to read the card’s magnetic strip. Then they wait for you to come along and add value to the card. When you do, the crook spends the money before you – or your gift recipient – can.

Brian Oglesby of the Better Business Bureau advises you avoid picking out the first gift card you see in the store.

The BBB also offers these tips:

Know who you are buying from

Little-known websites advertise gift cards for popular retailers at steep discounts. Those websites might be using the offers to steal payment card numbers or other personal information.

Instead, go directly to the merchant and purchase a card from them. 

Take a closer look when buying a physical gift card

No matter where gift cards are displayed in the store, thieves are known to remove them from the display rack and record the numbers associated with that card, including the activation PIN.

Before purchasing a gift card, look carefully at the packaging for any tears, wrinkles or other indications of tampering, and see if the PIN is exposed. If anything looks suspicious, it’s probably best to take a different card and turn in the compromised card to the store’s customer service desk.

Research how to use the card

Not all retailers have the same policies when issuing a gift card. Double check the terms and conditions on the type of gift card purchased.

The Federal Trade Commission has information about retail gift cards and bank gift cards. In Canada, find more information on the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada website.

Be wary of websites offering to check card balance

According to BBB.org/ScamTracker reports, some websites that claim to check your gift card balance are really a way to steal money off your card. These sites ask for your card’s ID number and PIN or security code. Schemers then use the information to drain the money off your card.

Register your gift card

If the retailer allows the option to register the gift card, take full advantage. This makes it easier to protect the balance, that way you can report it sooner and potentially end up saving the money that is stored on the card.

Change the PIN on the card, and don’t delay in using the money. The longer a card sits around, the more likely a cybercriminal is to steal the balance.

Treat it like cash

If the card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers to report a lost or stolen card – find it on the card or online.