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Beware of hacked gift cards this holiday season

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ARAB, Ala. -- Gift cards are easy gifts for the holiday season, but there are ways they can be hacked. That's something some Arab residents found out just as the days are leading up to Christmas.

Some Arab residents reported several fully loaded gift cards bought locally suddenly were left with only a few dollars on them, or none at all.  "They can be hacked as easily as a debit or credit card can be," explains Arab Police Assistant Chief Shane Washburn, "The offenders can actually go into the store, copy down the numbers that are on the gift cards and hack it that way, or they can actually take the gift cards from the store, use a skimmer device to basically capture the information off of the magnetic strip, make a clone card, and take the original card back to the store."

The thief will monitor the card online and wait for it to be activated. "They use the cloned card to basically deplete the funds off of the gift card," Washburn adds.

There are steps you can take to prevent this from happening to you, both with the gift cards you already have and when you buy them.  "It's always better to look for the cards behind the register, that way you know they're more secure," Washburn said.

Also, treat them like cash and be aware that as in the same fashion credit and debit card information can be stolen, so can gift card information. Finally, don't buy a gift card from someone who isn't affiliated with a reputable business.

"This time of year is always a good time to look out for that, because this is when we see a lot of theft and criminal activity because they know a lot of people are making purchases, and they know gift cards are a big present this time of year," Washburn said.

Of course, if you are a victim of this, contact your local law enforcement agency.