A Bay Area police officer is warning of a new gift card scam involving cards that are being made worthless and then sold at Target by unsuspecting clerks to unsuspecting customers.
The video, shared by TikTok creator Suzy Aledo, has generated more than 3.1 million views as of Monday. The video is narrated by Sgt. Barry Duggan of the Pinole, California Police Department. In addition to getting a major signal boost on TikTok, it’s also getting around via mainstream media routes, including via an NBC Bay Area story that labeled the scam as “a growing gift card scam circulating on social media.”
The video first appeared last Monday on the Pinole Police Department’s Facebook page.
In it, Duggan stands in a Target store near a display of Amazon gift cards, and sets the scene about being alerted to the scam.
“What we had was a person that came in and bought some gift cards from the store and went and purchased them and it was just like these right off the shelf,” he says.
He notes that while the card is encased in an envelope that’s “just fancy for you to look at,” it also reveals (via a window in the envelope) the bar code that a customer scans to use the card. But, for the card to be used, the customer also needs to reveal an alphanumeric code at the top of the card by scratching off the strip of silver acrylic resin covering the code.
@quantum.healer PSA | Gift Card Scam Alert Please take note of the gift card scam that is alarming and is increasing this holiday season. #psa #fyp #fypviral #christmas #holidayseason #giftcardscams #bediligent #educationalpurposes #hawaiitiktok #hawaiitiktokers ♬ original sound – Suzy Aledo
What the scammers are doing, according to Duggan, is “taking all these cards from the store without paying for them and without loading them up, taking them home. And what they do is they heat up these envelopes to where they can open them as carefully as they can, remove the card, and actually cut the top of the card off.”
The scammers, then having the codes, reseal the envelopes, and return them to the store where they’re then activated and sold—but only the person who has the code can spend the money on that card.
Duggan says, “What we’re advising you do is when you guys are buying gift cards, either feel for the entire card, it should be the same size as a credit card, or with the permission of the store … as you’re purchasing them, remove them from these folders and actually take the card and make sure that the whole card is there.”
Though the TikToker turned off comments in the video shared there, commenters to the Pinole Police Department’s initial Facebook post shared some thoughts.
“I don’t see why stores haven’t started putting them behind glass just like everything else,” one remarked.
“Why doesn’t the store alarm go off when they walk out or back in with them?” one wondered. “Has to be an inside job.”
One commenter lauded the police for issuing the PSA, saying, “Excellent work Sgt. The primary purpose of government is to protect good people in the community from the bad and that’s exactly what you are doing. We need more of this.”
The Daily Dot has reached out to the Pinole Police Department via email.