How thieves can access your gift cards before you spend them

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It will be a big rush to get the Shoup’s empty Cedar Park home ready for Christmas.

“Upstairs is where it all played out,” said Steve Shoup.

A fire consumed Shoup’s office upstairs last April. Smoke filled the house. Soot stacked on the counters.

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The insurance company deemed all walls and all content inside the home a loss.

“We were starting over from scratch basically,” said Shoup.

Shortly after the fire, friends gave a helping hand—a $500 prepaid Visa gift card.

“This is the first time I've gotten a gift card of this amount. I've never had anything that big,” said Shoup.

He thought he was being wise to save the money. His plan was to spend it on getting back in the house.

When the time came, he was shocked.

“It got declined,” said Shoup.

Someone activated their card months ago and then drained the account.

The card packaging was never tampered with, and the numbers were hidden.

Most of the missing money was traded for cash at the gift card buyback website, Raise.com.

“You would totally have to guess it,” said Shoup.

Security firms, like Distil Networks and Flashpoint, track gift card thieves and say prepaid cards are especially vulnerable.

The firms point out how some companies lack certain security measures, like a CAPTCHA system, making it easier for hackers to crack the numerical codes and get your money.

“It's easier for scammers to take that money and run with it,” said Erin Dufner, Chief Marketing Officer at the Central Texas Better Business Bureau.

Dufner warns that waiting to spend a gift card is risky.

“The longer that you hold on to them, the longer you may have to actually be scammed and have the money taken out,” said Dufner.

The protections you'd expect from a bank or credit card are not the same for gift cards.

The Federal Trade Commission warns, "Treat your card like cash... You may not recover any of the value that was on the card.”

Shoup filed a complaint with the BBB, after getting nowhere himself.

“I got an email two days after filing with the Better Business Bureau. They wanted some information about the card,” said Shoup.

“What happens is when somebody submits a dispute or customer, it goes directly to the business. And because of BBB’s relationship with the business community, generally it’s going to go to a president, an owner or some type of higher decision maker,” said Dufner.

Shoup is hopeful he’ll get his money back.

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