Watch out for scammers who want to take advantage of your holiday gift cards

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Gift cards continue to be a popular gift for the holidays, but they've also grown into a major target for scammers.

The Federal Trade Commission saw a 270% spike between 2015-2018 in consumers saying they paid scammers with gift cards. Often those transactions happen over the phone, with someone claiming they need payment by gift card rather than credit card.

"If you do give them your gift card (number), ... it’s almost impossible to get that money back or to trace that money," Better Business Bureau of Central Indiana CEO Tim Maniscalo said.

CBS4 Problem Solvers caught up with shoppers on the day after Christmas who said they planned to spend their gift cards right away. Maniscalo said you should follow their lead and spend your gift cards in person, within a year so that you don't encounter fees or expiration dates.

"(We're buying) really whatever we didn’t get on our list," shopper Kaya Hill said. "Gift cards are a big stocking stuffer in our family so we come with a lot of gift cards."

Maniscalo also warned that the growing cash for gift cards market is drawing scammers who are spoofing legitimate websites that offer a percentage of your gift card money for cash if you don't want to use it at a specific store.

"All they want to do is scam you to get the card number and then you’re not going to get your money," Maniscalo said.

You should never pay someone you don't know with gift cards, especially over the phone. The FTC also suggests that you report a lost or stolen gift card to the card's issuer immediately, using toll free numbers that you can find on the card packaging or online.

"Treat that card as currency and treat that (activation) number just as you would if you had money in your billfold," Maniscalo said.

You can find more information about gift card scams by clicking this link to visit ftc.gov/giftcards.

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