Nikki Vaughn

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MIAMI - NOVEMBER 21: A gift card rack is seen at the Barnes & Noble store November 21, 2008 in Miami, Florida. Analysts expect gift cards to be a big seller this holiday season. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Department of Homeland Security is warning holiday shoppers of a simple, yet effective, holiday scam involving gift cards.

Thieves have been copying the numbers and codes from the backs of the gift cards while they’re still in stores, then waiting until they’re purchased and activated before using the information to make purchases. Because the cards are usually purchased as gifts, the theft isn’t discovered until the recipient tries to use it.

To prevent gift card theft, DHS officials recommend checking to make sure the protective scratch-off area on the back of the card hasn’t been tampered with before buying it. They also suggest buying gift cards that are kept behind store counters, whenever possible.

Have you ever been victimized by a holiday scam?