Northwestern Ontario residents are warned of an ongoing scam involving gift cards ahead of the holiday season.

Front Store Manager at Kenora’s Shoppers Drug Mart, Tina Desaulniers, warns that while gift cards are an easy and popular choice over the holidays, residents should take extra time to ensure they are actually purchasing a valid gift card due to an ongoing scam across Canada.

“Whether people bring in the gift cards or they’re sent to us...I don’t know how it works. But what happens is people put a sticker on the back of a gift card, where people open them up and put a new bar code on. So when we scan the card, it activates another gift card,” she explains.

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Desaulniers says after going through every gift card at Kenora’s Shoppers Drug Mart location this morning, she found over 50 fraudulent cards including those from the LCBO, Playstation Network and fuel stations – with the majority being larger gift cards with $50 or $100 on them.

That means that residents could have unknowingly purchased a gift card for a loved one and loaded it up with their own money, but the gift card won’t have any value, and a separate gift card owned by the scammer would be activated. To make matters worse, most stores refuse to refund gift card purchases.

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Desaulniers says while the gift card shelves are being checked frequently to weed out any fraudulent items, there are a number of tips to help avoid purchasing a scammed gift card.

She explains that residents should always check the gift card’s bar code area for any sort of sticker placed on top of the original code, to double check the card that is being scanned is the same that is being activated at the till, and that the numbers on the bar code match up.

“We sell a lot of gift cards. People will come in and buy packs. When you get busy as a retailer...it’s hard,” she adds. “Nobody wants to be scammed. We don’t want you to get scammed. But they’re tricky, and they’re smart. You have to be vigilant. Merry Christmas and be careful out there!”

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The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reports over 1,000 complaints of gift card tampering in 2022. The Retail Council of Canada estimates losses of roughly $3.8 million due to gift card fraud in 2021.