Does Safeway Have A Rampant Gift Card Scam Issue?

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Does Safeway Have A Rampant Gift Card Scam Issue?

I have been hearing about a few different issues with gift cards at Safeway.  First we shared with you an issue Miles Per Day had with Amazon gift cards.  He followed that up with some more details after speaking to the store manager.  Then reader Kevin reached out to let us know of some Visa gift card scams he ran into at multiple Safeway stores.  All of the incidents happened in the state of Washington so it could be one scammer hitting everything in that area.  But I will share some tips on how you can stay safe with your gift card purchases.

Visa Gift Card Scam

We covered a pretty awesome Visa gift card deal at Safeway yesterday.  Reader Kevin was all about it and hit up multiple stores to take advantage.  Here is what he reported running into:

#1 $100 VISA Gift Card,  Bought Newcastle WA Safeway 2/13/2019

16 digit number from the front of the gift card was totally removed.  Valid through month and year were totally removed.  Three digit code on the back was totally removed.  Last two digits of number above bar code on the back were scratched off.  I think the magnetic strip was damaged, or maybe erased by a magnet, since I could not spend the card by swiping it at Costco.  The credit card numbers and security code were erased so I could not register or spend them online.  The last two digits above the bar code on the back of the card were erased so I could not call the VISA phone number and get the card canceled and reissued, if I did not have the receipt.

#2 $100 VISA Gift Card, Bought at Issaquah WA Safeway 2/13/2019

Last four digits of the 16 digit credit card number were removed.  Valid through month and year were not removed.  Three digit code on the back was totally removed.  Last three digits of number above bar code on the back were scratched off.  I did not try to spend this card at a store.

#3 $100 VISA Gift Card, Bought at Issaquah WA Safeway 2/13/2019

16 digit number from the front of the gift card was totally removed.  Valid through month and year were totally removed.  Three digit code on the back was totally removed.  Last two digits of number above bar code on the back were scratched off.  I did not try to spend this card at a store.

Kevin’s Thoughts

On all three of the tampered gift cards I had to peel off the back paper strip to reveal the bar code prior to purchase.  None of packages had the pull tab opened before I bought them.  On all three tampered gift cards the gummy glue normally used to hold the gift card to the inside of the paper packaging was missing.  Instead each of them had a different type of glue used along the left edge of the gift card.  I believe the scammer/thief cut the left side of the paper cardboard packaging, recorded the credit card numbers, then removed the numbers from the card, then slide the card back into the cardboard packaging, then glued the side of the cardboard packaging.

The defense I see to protect people from buying a tampered gift card is that after the back strip is torn off to reveal the bar code, check to make sure some of the numbers above the bar code have not been scratched off.  These numbers need to go all the way to the end of the bar code. I called the phone number on the back of the gift cards and gave them the activation numbers from the store receipt, these are the same numbers above the bar code on the back of the card.  I could tell what numbers had been scratched off of the card from the receipt.  They canceled each of the three tampered cards, took my information and are mailing me new gift cards (I think 7 to 10 days).

My Thoughts And Ideas To Protect Yourself

This is next level fraud.  Between these and the Amazon gift cards Vinh reported these people are going to great lengths to make them look un-tampered with. They are removing them from the shelves, taking them home, and doing their dirty work.  The scammers then return the cards at a later time and wait.  They must have a bot or system of some sort to constantly check the balances and redeem them.  They are doing this in a matter of hours which is pretty shocking.

How can you avoid it?  That is tough to say.  Be sure to inspect the packages closely and not just the lift tab.  They may be too good to catch it this way though.  I would do what Vinh suggests and open the package in the store after purchase in front of an employee at the customer service desk.  Then you can have it handled right away.  If it is an Amazon gift card for personal use add it to your account right after purchase on your phone etc. Be sure to check the numbers above the bar code before having the card swiped like Kevin says too.

Conclusion

This is some next level stuff here.  The scammers are going to great lengths to fool people.  They scratch off the numbers so you can not redeem the card yourself right away.  This gives them more time to find the balance.  That is why it is important to open it in store. Since all of this is happening in the Washington area I would tend to think it is one person or group doing it.  They are systematically targeted Safeway locations so you may wanna avoid their stores for the time being.  Let us know if you have had any issues in other areas though.

Big thanks to Kevin for reaching out and sharing this info.

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50 COMMENTS

    • I know crazy. I have never heard of them scratching off the numbers before…that is taking it to new levels.

  1. I had several issues with VGC bought at Safeway stores in SF-Bay Area. While the numbers were not scratched off the cards were drained by fraudsters a day or two after I bought them. The packages were not compromised. Thankfully I had the receipts and after submitting claims with the issuing company I got replacement cards.
    The lesson – check the cards you buy on the spot and register them on the website listed on the back of the card as soon as possible after the purchase.

  2. I bought 2 $100s and 2 $50s at safeway in Kent, WA and one of the $100’s had the whole number removed. The card also felt thinner than usual and had superglue on it. I called the issuer and they confirmed the balance was still on the card and said they would send a new one. I’m headed back to safeway now to buy more. lol

  3. There is one person in Austin who got stung by this and I found 6 tampered cards at a Randalls and turned them in to the manager. There is damage along the bottom that you notice once you know what to look for.

  4. Thanks to Kevin and Mark! I bought two $100 Visa cards this morning, at Oregon City OR Safeway. Got the $15 off, and I am (was ) a happy camper. I checked the back for tampering as I have done for years. No problem. Well, read this article this afternoon and checked the first card and yep back of card had signature area removed and void void void on it from Visa. The front of card had all numbers removed as mentioned. WOW!, i am immediately heading to Safeway and checked the other card. It had all the numbers on front and a sticker covering them. But sticker looked rumpled up and back of card okay. Folks at Safeway were totally surprised but saw the issues and contacted corporate. They pulled two more off the rack and they too were tampered with. Then they checked MasterCard cards and they too were tampered with. Their advice from corporate was to pull down all MC and Visa which they were doing. I had printed off Mark’s article above and showed them the article and left it with them. I was told i will be contacted by corp likely on Monday. I think this is tip of the iceberg for GC. Amex and anything else that can be tampered with.

      • I was called yesterday by Safeway on the 22nd to come in and get a $200 refund on my expenditure earlier. I’ve noticed that Safeway here in Oregon City, OR has not removed the VISA cards from the GC area. Yep, still there.

  5. I live in Vancouver Wa which is SW as opposed to upstate. I just bought and cashed out a $500 mb vc today with no issue. I also want to note Safeway’s in my area have never given me a visa gc problem and we have about 4 or 5 Safeway’s just in our area not including Portland.

  6. While it’s great to warn people about this, you’ve also just told more people how to scam gift cards. I don’t know what the answer is, just presenting another point of view.

  7. This just happened to me this afternoon! I wish I saw this post before I went to Safeway at Lynnwood WA. I bought 2 $100 GC, one of them is tampered exactly like this. Called the number on the back of the card and they will mail me a new one in 7-10 days. I’m wondering if I should call Safeway and tell their management about this.

  8. OMG, but these scammers would have to steal the non-activated gift card first, and then put it back up at a later time, hope they have security cameras pointing at the gift card racks. The balls of these scammers thou.

    • Exactly. They are taking them out, doing the dirty work, and then bringing them back. It has to be pretty time consuming I would think too. Hopefully raising awareness will have stores more on alert about it.

  9. San Diego area: 3 digit code scratched off and card demagnetized after opening the package. I immediately called and got a replacement sent out. Nothing had been drained.

  10. This is also happening in Texas (Randalls). The fact that its happening in multiple areas makes me think the issue is originating in a warehouse somewhere rather than someone taking gcs home off a rack and returning later.

    • I was thinking about inside job of safeway yesterday, otherwise these guys would have to steal a lot of cards and put them back, which is a lot of work, and the chances of getting caught by a random passerby employee is high. But since it’s happening country-wide you’re probably right about this thing going way up the distribution line.

  11. I just wanted to throw my 2 cents out there as I bought 4 cards today: 2 genuine and 2 counterfeit. I put them side by side and noticed quite a few differences:
    1. The fake ones seem to use slightly different packaging with older dates on them. My guess is that either they produced their own fake packaging or had used the older cards’, as the scammers obviously have come to the store prepared.
    2. The seams had a slightly different pattern of punches/presses.
    3. Upon lifting the slip, as others have noted, the last few digits above the barcode are scratched off.
    4. Kinda obvious, the card number on the front was scratched off

    Solutions?
    1. When buying them, take them out right away to inspect
    2. In case you just opened them at home. Get a barcode reader app on your phone (any of those would do), scan the barcode and recover the number above. Call customer service immediately to get a replacement card. They will send it to your mail (Still waiting for mine!)

  12. Recently had 2 $50 BestBuy gift cards that I purchased from Safeway in the Bay Area. The cards were not only inactive, but the cards didn’t match the number on the outside of the packaging. I always check the packaging for tampering and grab the ones from the back of the rack, but that still didn’t help. I now have to go through the process of getting my money back…ugh.

    • Wow so you think they mixed up when they went to put the cards back into the cardboard? That is a mess.

  13. In addition to checking the cards at the store I always register the cards and set/reset the PIN as soon as I get home, even if the card looks normal. I’m in WA and buy from Safeway weekly. I’ve not had any issues, but I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to GC’s.

  14. Funny how it was a few weeks ago there were reports of a class action lawsuit against Walmart for not packaging their gift cards like the Visa and Mastercard ones. And now the scammers have found a way around those cards too. That is why I think The lawsuit should be thrown out…no matter how you package the gift card, someone who wants to be a thief will find a new way to get around it.

    • I think Target does it pretty well. They have that scratch off section that you can see when purchasing. So you can see if the code has been revealed before buying. There is also the target emblem on the scratch off thing so it can’t be replaced. Then Target makes you input the access code when using it online or in store. I think that is about as good as it gets.

  15. Perhaps it is more likely that the theft is happening further up the chain than physical stores. Particularly if an outside agent is responsible for stocking the inventory.

  16. I purchased a $500 VGC at a Vons (Safeway) in the LA area in late October and most of the funds were drained within hours, at another Vons 80 miles away. I didn’t catch it until the next morning when my wife ran into problems using it at the mall. When she handled it to me I saw that the 3 digit CID on the back of the card was scratched off. I got my money back but it took about 6 weeks.

    • Same with me, LA-area Vons store, Metabank Visa, 3-digit code totally scratched off. Funds drained a day later at another local store (Stater Bros.). I’m expecting a replacement within 45-90 days in mail.

      And another, US Bank Visa from Ralphs (Kroger) already had another name registered to it. Needed to fax in my info to get a replacement. This is sophisticated stuff here.

  17. I just bought two $100, two $50, six $500, two $500 AMAZON at the Safeway at Lakecity, Seattle. I carefully examined the packages before I bought the cards because I already read this article. However, the two $100 VISA gift cards were tempered where the numbers on the front and back were both scratched off. The other cars are okay. I kept all my receipts and call the customer numbers on the backside of the cards. After spending about 15 min on the phone with the representatives, he will send me two replacement cards by mails.

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