How to avoid becoming a victim of new gift card scam

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Criminals use the gift cards to move money. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Criminals use the gift cards to move money. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The gift cards become worthless if a criminal has compromised it. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The gift cards become worthless if a criminal has compromised it. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

You've probably heard before, gift cards can be a risky purchase.

Recently, I got one as a gift and when I went to use it, there was no money in it.

I had been scammed.

[SPECIAL SECTION: CBS 5 This Morning]

Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Reid Pixler is the expert when it comes to gift cards and how criminals use them to move money.

In fact, he tells me it's one of the ways drug traffickers move money around because it's very hard to track.

"This is the modern point of the spear of criminal enterprise in money laundering and we're racing as a law enforcement community to catch up," said Pixler.

If an original gift card has been compromised, there's a great chance the value a customer puts on the card will be taken by a criminal enterprise before the person who bought it has even had a chance to spend it, said Pixler.

Pixler says since they're easy to steal from a store, criminals will take them, get the 16-digit code off the card, put a similar type cover over the number, reseal the packaging, put it back on the shelf and then wait for the cards to be purchased.

[RELATED: Phoenix-area consumer reimbursed for worthless gift cards]

They monitor that 16-digit number through the internet.

Once the money is on the card, it's moved before that gift card is ever used.

Pixler says criminals are so good at what they do, most people would never know they're buying a card that's been tampered with.

"You can manufacture another cover over the top of that pin and most people looking at it wouldn't have a clue whether that's the original packaging or it's been re-done and compromised," said Pixler.

[READ MORE: Woman discovers 'inactivity fees' on her gift cards]

Pixler says if you plan on buying a gift card, do your homework, then look over the gift card and the packaging it's in before you load it.

He says if you're going to buy one, buy it from an area in a store that's secure, not where the gift cards are out in the open.

Pixler says it's very difficult for a customer who bought the gift card to get their money back because the store might think you're trying to defraud them.

However, he says your best recourse is to go back to the store where you bought it from, with your receipt.

"Wherever that card was sold, within its system, the card was compromised, so I would say the company responsible for it is the seller of the card," said Pixler.

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