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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Gift cards remain one of the most popular presents in America, but more and more consumers are having issues with the cards when they try to use them at designated shops.

The $200 gift card Alex Stevenson had received was getting rejected when she tried to use it to buy a new TV. It had a zero balance.

“It was actually a gift from my sister,” said Stevenson. “I had it all wrapped up, still in the cardboard.”

It was a surprise to the teacher, who hadn’t even taken it out of its wrapper ’til she got to the store and she’s not alone.

Captain Joe Pierucci of the Daly City Police Department says for years, criminals were copying the numbers off gift cards on public displays and then returning them to the rack to wait until they were activated so they could drain the balance – sometimes even before the recipient received their gift.

One of the tricks of the trade are “zebra” stickers that can be used to cover up scratched-off security panels so buyers don’t realize their cards have been tampered with. Some of them are for sale on Amazon.

Security experts say criminals are also getting the numbers through data breaches and by hacking into store’s gift card databases.

On June 1st, Australian retailer Woolworth’s experienced a data breach that led to AUS $1.3 million worth of gift card numbers being leaked online.

Neither Safeway, where Alex’s card was purchased, nor Best Buy could say how her card was breached though Best Buy said the card was drained the day after it was purchased.

The safest place to buy gift cards is directly from the retailers and ask for cards kept behind the counter as opposed to on a large end-cap or public display.

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