Novato woman lost $1k helping Maui victims in gift card scam

A Marin County woman is frustrated after she sent $2,000 worth of Target gift cards to Maui families impacted by the wildfires over the summer, only for half of the gift cards to be declined at the store.

Christine Miller said she and her friends had been raising money for Maui wildfire victims. She purchased ten gift cards, worth $200 each, at the Target store in Novato. 

She sent the gift cards to Hawaiian families. The cards arrived in perfect condition. The cards were not tampered with and their access codes were not scratched off. 

However, when some of the families arrived at their local Target cash registers, the cards were declined. Miller said the cashier indicated the cards had no balance. 

It’s a gift card scam officials are warning about ahead of the holidays.

"It’s not right. It’s not right for a consumer, it’s not right for a recipient, and it’s embarrassing," Miller said.

She called the customer service number on the back of the gift cards and an automated message told her the money was spent all over the country in places like Brooklyn, NY, Cedar Hill, TX, and West Hollywood, CA. 

She learned five of the ten gift cards had been compromised, costing her $1,000.

Miller said she recently started a non-profit called "Angels Have Wings," and she is currently working on obtaining 501c(3) status. Over the last few months, she and some close friends have been sending supplies and love to Lahaina. This incident has disrupted her plans to send support. 

"For right now our focus is on the people of Maui," Miller said. "These people have lost everything: their homes; they’re living on beaches, they’re living in parks, they have nothing, and for them to get a gift, and it be taken from them… It’s appalling."

"What these scammers do is they create accounts with the information on the gift card and they’re just waiting for you to upload the money," said Alma Galvan, Regional Communications Manager for the BBB San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California. 

Galvan says the exact same scam has happened to her in the past, and it’s more common during the holidays.


Target to close 3 Bay Area stores, citing theft and employee safety

Retail giant Target blamed crime for its decision to close three stores in the Bay Area and several more around the country.

"We’ve seen it reported through our scam tracker report with Target, Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, even online purchases through Visa or Mastercard," she explained. 

Galvan advises consumers double check the gift cards for any evidence of tampering before they purchase them. She also said to report any incidents of fraud to the retailers immediately.

A Target spokesperson sent a statement via email that read, "We are aware of the prevalence of gift card scams and take them very seriously. We have signs in our stores and share general safety tips with our team members so they can stay alert and help guests as best as they can at our registers. Our centralized cyber fraud team helps educate our team members about common scams and encourages them to look for guests purchasing high dollar amounts or large quantities of gift cards, or tampering with gift cards in stores."

Miller said she’s still waiting for a refund from Target customer service, who told her it could take up to two weeks to address her claim. 

She sends this warning to holiday shoppers: "I would say don’t buy gift cards."

A Target spokesperson said any customers who believe they’ve been victims of fraud are encouraged to contact their guest relations team at 1-800-440-0680.