WARNING: New Visa Gift Card Scam & How to Protect Yourself

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visa gift card scam

A New Type of Visa Gift Card Fraud

Hello everyone. I know the title is a little bit strong, but something happened to one of my readers the other day when buying a variable load Metabank gift card at a grocery store. I wanted to make sure to get your attention so you know what to look for and learn how best to protect yourself.

A Scary Story

Last night I received an email from Paul about a nightmare he had when purchasing a Metabank variable load Visa gift card at a local grocery store here in Las Vegas. He has been around this hobby for awhile and makes sure to check the packaging in case it has been tampered with.

After verifying the packaging was 100% in tact, he paid for his gift card and went to Walmart to liquidate it. At that point the card was denied and he noticed that four of the digits of the card number were scratched off. He also was eventually able to verify that the magnetic strip was cleaned of any data. The card was worthless and useless.

Here is what happened in his words:

So something happened to me today you might want to warn you readers about. I bought a 500.00 card today, I always make sure it has not been tampered with and the bar code is still covered. Well went to load it at Walmart and noticed 4 of the digits had been scratched off the card and the magnetic strip was wiped clean. It would not swipe of course. I went back to the store to show the manager and we proceeded to open that last 3 on the shelf and same thing with all of them.

visa gift card scam
This is the card. The number has not been altered in this image. It was missing when he opened the packaging.

So based on his experience, it seems likely that one of two things has happened with these cards:

  • The cards are being tampered with before leaving the factory
  • Someone is taking cards, altering them and then using counterfeit packaging to put them back on the shelves.

I really don’t know which of these scenarios is more plausible, but the fact remains that these tampered with cards were somehow completely sealed inside of the package with absolutely no tampering. Paul has made it clear that the packages did not have a rip, tear or any other opening.

visa gift card scam
This is not the exact package, but this is the same package type as what he purchased.

How to Protect Yourself

The manager told Paul how best to protect himself and I think it is a good strategy. If you are purchasing these cards bring them up to the register like you normally would. After the cashier scans them (but before you swipe your credit card), make sure to take the card out of the package and inspect it. That way you can verify the card hasn’t been altered.

I’m not going to lie and say that every cashier will be happy with you trying to do this, but perhaps you can explain the situation. If you bring the cards up to the cashier already opened, then they will suspect you of doing something. Always make sure to open them after they are scanned, but before you swipe your credit card.


This is a really scary type of fraud, because it is nearly impossible to see beforehand. How they are getting these tampered cards into the packages is beyond me, but I know I will be extra careful when purchasing these cards in the future. While Paul will be able to get his money back because he caught the fraud right away, it will be a hassle I’m sure. Oh and how many people don’t check these cards right away? A lot I’m sure.

If you have encountered anything similar to this please let us know in the comments.

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Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. I’m so upset. I bought a $500 gift card. This is how I make online Christmas purchases so that my personal bank account isn’t hacked. Within 24 hours some made a purchase for 1.95 then reversed the charge. (Testing it I suppose). Then made a PayPal purchase of 498.00. I called the number on the website where I registered the card and added a pin. It may be resolved in 30, 60, or 90 days. Now what am I supposed to do- hand IOU’s to my kids???

  2. This same thing happened to me. I purchased a OneVanilla prepaid MasterCard and loaded it with $300 at Couche Tard at 8067 Saint-Laurent Blvd. in Montreal on 11/17/2020. Got home, opened it up, last four digits on the card were scratched off. Packaging showed no signs of tampering. Went back to the store, they wouldn’t do anything. Called OneVanilla. With the barcode number they were able to provide me with the last four missing digits. Checked the balance online and all was ok. Next day I tried buying on Amazon and payments were being declined. Pulled up the card balance on OneVanilla again. Zero dollars available. There was a pending transaction for the entire $300 balance with some merchant I’ve never dealt with nor heard of in my life. Currently being investigated. Can take up to 90 days and no guarantees that the investigation will end in my favor. Pretty much never buying one of these stupid cards again. Manufacturers and retailers obviously don’t have the controls in place to ensure they haven’t been compromised.

    • Same thing happened to me. $300 Visa gift card purchased on 11-20-2020 @ supermaket & on 11-21-2020 a Nordstrom charge for $300 & 0 balance showed up. Nordstrom in New Jersey. I live in California. Nordstrom can’t help because card was 3rd party & not Nordstrom. So I have to fill out a claim form & I figure I may or my not get my cash back. Effin sucks!

  3. I was given a $50 gift card just like this and it was in the packaging with no signs of being used or open. I activated it today 4/16/20 and it showed me a balance of $50. I went to the grocery store and it was declined. I got out to my car and checked the balance again and it showed someone used on paypal and literally within an hour of me “registering” the card on their site. The transaction had the number 4029357733 and Michaelener PayPal. I called and they told me they would block the card which was pointless because it was already used in full but stated if Paypal sent the money back they would issue me a new card and requested that I contact Paypal. PayPal was unable to even find the transaction. I really believe MetaBank is not legit at this point.

    • Damn!!!!!! It happened to me as well, i lost $196. They are so freaking good cheater that they use paypal to buy something so that they won’t even be caught.

    • This scam with a Visa gift card just hit me not even 24 hours ago! I purchased a Visa gift card at 3:16pm on 6/21/20. I went to use at Cracker Barrel in Lancaster NY at 3:36pm and funds were already swiped. My card declined several times and left me puzzled. I’ve contacted the police and Visa. I am so puzzled that I searched google to come across this blog. This is unbelievable…the package was definitely enclosed in original package and appeared completely untampered . I’ve done everything in my power. Some people are just awful

    • My remaining visa gift card balance was also transferred to MICHAELENER on PayPal with that exact same transaction number on 28/04/20. Except I was actually able to use my card 3 times before this scam happened all within the same month. Not sure when this card was activated as it was a gift. Will not be trusting these Visa/MasterCard gift cards anymore in the future!

  4. I bought a $50 gift card on 12/20/19 for my daughter. When I opened the untampered package, only half the card was in the package. The half with the magnetic strip and cvc code was gone. When I called to report it, visa said the card had zero balance and it had been used at Fry’s and Circle K exactly 24 hours after purchase.

    This sounds like a major operation.

  5. It is Oct 2019 and this scam is ongoing. Isn’t anyone ever going to catch these people? Sure does sound like an inside job and no one is doing anything about it.

    Received a $25 Visa Gift Card by Metabank and same story, went to use it and it’s rejected over and over, I call the automated number which says that the card was never properly activated. Contacted Metabank, they said too bad, contacted the Better Business Bureau (which has hundreds of complaints from the past 3 years only) and Metabank still refused to do anything, says the money was kept at the store level. This is a SCAM!

  6. I received replacement of META VISA debit gift card and immediately checked the balance amount and activated. I tried three different retail location and all of them declined my replacement card. I called customer service and they told me that they need to unblock “soft lock” which I didn’t understand why they even locked the card after I activated. I’m inclined to think that this bank might randomly doing this and hope for some people just dropped the case as unfortunate circumstance instead of dispute the case. Will see if I will be able to use this card after 3 to 5 business day as they said. I will never purchase VISA gift card.

  7. I purchased a Metabank Visa GC for $100 for Christmas gift for husband on 12/15/18. He didn’t use it until last week cuz he was saving it to make this one special purchase. He went to use the GC and discovered it had $0 balance. He did some research and it had been used 7 days after I had loaded the money at 2 different grocery stores in Glendale, CA (we live in Ventura County). I immediately called customer service with the GC company and they told me I was out of luck they couldn’t help me since the unauthorized charges had occurred over 60 days. I then asked to speak with their fraud department since I felt this was an inside job (packaging not tampered/card # not scratched) & they refused arguing the 60 day rule. I will never buy these GC again.

  8. This just happened to me with a 100 dollar gift card, purchased at the Fred Meyer on Burnside in Portland, Oregon.
    Thankfully I opened it up to register it right there in the store, and was unable to do so because the last four digits were scratched off. So a manager grabbed another off the shelf, and the last 4 were missing off THAT on as well! She gave me a cash refund thankfully. Close call. Always open and register your cards right when you purchase them, for safety.
    My question is: HOW is the criminal able to profit from this? I used my credit card to buy this gift card….where did the money go?

  9. We bought a Visa gift card at Vons for $280.00 dollars and same thing. Someone took the money at a Walmart. This was back on Sep 09, 2017 and Sep 10, 2017, money was taken. I have waited for the 90-day process and Meta Bank has the close claim. Stating that I was missing paperwork. Bunch of lies, I have proof of sending everything they asked. I got so disappointed. So, I went ahead and reported to the news channel. They are investigating and will air hopefully soon. All consumers need to be aware of this fraud! I don’t doubt that insiders from these gift cards are in it. How can it be that they know when money is loaded into the card and next day money is gone.

  10. I was given a $100 Visa gift card for my birthday in June 2017 and, like others, did not want to use it right away so when I finally decided to call in October 2017 to be sure the balance was the original $100 much to my surprise I only had $52.94 on the card. This card was put in my dresser drawer and never taken out of the packaging when I received it. I have been trying to get Visa to reinstate the full amount since I never used the card but that is proving to be very hard. They actually canceled the original card that was used, charged me $5.95 to issue me a new card for the $52.94. I cannot believe this as they gave me the persons name who used the card and it sure was not myself. I work at a store that sells the Visa, American Express, and Master Cards and we have quit selling them because of all the fraud. I agree that something has to be done to insure a persons purchase of these gift cards or these companies need to quit offering them for sale.

  11. Just had the same thing happen to me. Received a Metabank visa card for $130 as a gift back in July. Had a particular purchase in mind so I waited until after summer to use it. Turns out five days after it had been activated, someone spent 124.95 at the family dollar store in Hemet, CA. Must be some kind of inside job because the card was completely enclosed in the package and all the numbers are still on it. These thieves have all of the information on the front and back of the card before the cards are even open. They also know when it gets activated. I called Meta-bank to report the problem and they said too bad, the purchase was too long ago so I could not dispute it. I told them I didn’t care about the money so much but they have an internal problem they should look into. He apologized and said there was nothing he could do. These companies need to get their act together or nobody will buy their cards anymore. That said, DON’T BUY METABANK CARDS.

  12. This just happened to me I was given a gift card for my birthday on the 18th and the 19th it was used for the full amount at a Walmart. I’m in the process of trying to get the money put back on it but I’m sure they’ll figure out a way not to give it to me.

  13. If you have problems with Walmart cards here is a suggestion.
    I had someone steal my Bank of America card and used it to buy $5000 worth of gift cards from various stores in the state of Florida.
    Walmart Global Investigations
    Hotline 479-204-2973
    May be who you can contact for help. My situation somewhat different but they have been helping me.

  14. Metabank says my $50. was turned over to the State because of inactivity on the card. Problem is the State says they never received it. Metabank is getting away with theft! Why doesn’t someone investigate them? Maybe if we all file a fraud complaint with the banking authorities something can be done.

  15. I received a $7 Staples Meta bank rebate card in the mail back in November with a May 2017 expiration date. The card stayed in the house until I tried using it yesterday at Staples. The balance was zero. Got online. Two purchases for $1 online and $6 in Whittier CA on Feb 15th & 16th 2017. I’m in Michigan. Contacted Meta Bank. To file a fraud claim, one must print out a claim form, complete the form and have it notarized. Of course, it costs more for the notary public than the card is worth. They insisted that the process must be followed. Obviously, that is not going to happen. So, perfect scenario for massive under-the-radar fraud. I think retailers might what to reconsider using Meta bank as their provider, and the general public should not buy their cards.

  16. Use a clean email account for your financial transactions and accounts, do not use that account for ANY other online activity.
    you will automatically know that all mail not coming to THAT account is not related to your real financial situation. scrutinize all mails coming to your special account and request ‘text-based’ mails whenever possible.

  17. I am a victim of this hideous scam! I purchased $350.00 worth of Visa cards at Walmart in Tewksbury, MA. It is so humiliating to have you grandson call you and tell you when he went to use the Visa card to buy something, it had no money on it, and it was used by someone in California. I am trying to fight this crap now, with hopes that I will be able to replace the money on the cards. Incidentally the other 3 cards were comprimised too.

    • OMG, I had it happen to me. I bought a Visa at Walmart in Northern California and had $50 put on it. I gave it to my grandson for Christmas, he tried to use it and it only had $4 on it! I was furious. The packaging didn’t look tampered with. The assistant manager told me “it wasn’t their fault” but they did replace it with another card. My grandson used the card before we left the store so no one else could use it. I will never buy any type of gift card again:(

  18. I am a victim of fraud also and it is not worth buying this gift cards. Ralph’s and other places that sell them should discontinue offering them due to this trouble. I’m sure there are many victims out there and the card issuer does not care because they are still making money. Avoid the pain and heartache and just don’t buy them period. Get something else as a gift.

  19. My daughter was a victim of the Walmart/Visa Gift Card Scam, She lost $150.00 at Walmart, she purchased the card and 3 days later when my granddaughter went to use it, nothing was on the card. Walmart and the company that supports the card Green Dot Inc, are refusing to refund the amount. There is video of the crook using the card at a ATM in a Walmart, I have the original card with packaging, I filed a claim through Green Dot Inc. , they denied the claim, stating it was a valid transaction, I filed a police report, filed a complaint with the local BBB. Walmart, Green Dot Inc. , and Visa refuse to investigate in good faith, none have contacted the Asset Protection Depts. at either Walmart, the police will not investigate because of the low dollar amount. I have spent several hours on the phone and at the Walmart where the card was purchased, each time I am told a different story of what to do. I have contacted two police depts., the company that issued the card, ( Green Dot Inc. ) two Walmart’s , Visa, and approx. 12 phone calls later, several visits , none will accept responsibility. This occurred in Long Beach, Ca.

  20. Due diligence is also important if you get hit. I got my card at Walmart and immediately called when I got home as it wasn’t swiping.. somehow these suckers are also demagnetized.

    It took a long time to try to bypass the menu to get to an agent (considering it’s impossible to type in 4 missing digits) and so I submitted the paperwork and they said to expect a refund within 2weeks. Of course 2 weeks goes by, no check… and called in again. Turns out they closed the case as they found that there were 2 large charges made. Supposedly if they go through, they can dispute it.. if not, then it’s “supposed” to go back to my card. Part of me wants it to go through, so the retailers can reach into their systems and see where my goods are getting delivered to. Course, that means this will delay the refund process. =/

    Thank you, if it wasn’t for coming across this article a couple weeks ago.. wouldn’t have made the connection that this card was definitely tampered. The packaging wasn’t ripped or anything funny and I thought I scratched off the numbers myself.

  21. Thanks for the heads up. I will check them immediately after purchase. Sounds like the best course of action is to immediately check the balance and ask for a replacement if there isn’t the proper balance on the card.

  22. I don’t understand how people benefit by stealing unactivated cards? Do they write the numbers down and then wait for them to be activated and buy things online with the number?

    • I had a WalMart Visa gift card for over $200. Kept it for a year, then decided to register it and use. The instructions say the card has to be registered before it can be used. So I registered it, then went in to make sure the balance was correct and it showed -0-. It showed there was a purchase made to Amazon for the same amount the week before. IMPOSSIBLE..I hadn’t registered the card at that time..how did the transaction go through? I personally opened the packaging the card was in so I know no one else in my house used it. Green Dot won’t stand behind it and I’m out the money. I checked w/Amazon and WalMart and there is nothing they can do. Any suggestions? Green Dot is HORRIBLE…

  23. I doubt it would have helped in this case, but I would be totally okay with stores keeping the higher value cards behind the counter. My local Staples has stopped stocking $200 Visa & MC cards because torn strips/fraud (at least, that’s what they told me).

  24. Love how this store begins in Las Vegas…

    At any rate, paying for the card after opening the package would obviously prevent this type of fraud from happening, however, this is introducing complexity into the transaction. Given that there definitely a double digit percentage of cashiers and managers who are uneasy about selling high value gift cards (and many of them) with credit card, you risk having additional eyes on the transaction, and ultimately being told ‘cash only’ or something along those lines (whether this is an actual store policy or not).

    Thad said, why did Paul wait so long to open the package after having purchased it?

    As habit, after paying I immediately bust open the package, inspect the card, make sure receipt matches bar code numbers, etc.

    If card has been altered (and clearly having the last 4 digits of the card scratched off is indication of altering), one can immediately call customer service on this, show it to the manager of the store, and more or less get this resolved then and there (or at least to the point where your funds are no longer in danger). It’s highly unlikely that the would be criminal could have the time to drain said card so soon after purchase.

    Waiting so long to check the card after purchase (or rather not checking it immediately after purchase) is a ‘head scratcher’… While Paul thankfully prevailed, it seems apparent that much of his profit was eaten in fuel (and time) in driving to WM, waiting in line not being to accomplish said BB load or what-have-you and then having to drive back to the grocery store again, without even considering how long one must wait for a refund…

    • You make a good point, but I would assert that most people don’t open the cards and check them right away. As you say though that is a prudent practice and one that everyone should partake in. On the flip side, once your transaction is completed with the store, if the card has been tampered with, you are still going to have a headache getting your money back. It isn’t possible for them to simply reverse the transaction so it still is a hassle. Thanks for sharing!

      • I found out that my gift had been compromised before I activated the GC. Luckily I was right next to the grocery store and went inside to speak to store manager. After several calls and almost 40 minutes of waiting, the manager was able to move the funds from VGC to MCGC. Store managers do have the ability to help.

      • Visa card scam just happened to us. We gave a gift card as a wedding present and when they went to use it the balance was zero. Somehow as soon as it was activated someone else made two transactions on it making it useless.!

  25. Just bought one this afternoon got home opened it the middle numbers were missing. Went back to the grocery store and they said can’t help me from the store level but they did call the gift card 1800 number and explained the whole situation. The help desk for the gift card said the money was there in the card and they will gladly send me a replacement card.

  26. Today at the grocery store over half of $500 VGS on display had their pin code strips torn off. I finally found an intact one and it worked fine.

  27. I purchased 2 $200 Mastercards at Staples on 3/23. I didn’t unload one until late April. At the end of May I checked the balance on the other and there was only $4.45 on it. The fraudulent purchases occurred on 5/25 and 5/28. Lesson learned, if I can’t unload it quick I will register it. I’m just assuming that would help. I never had luck at Walmart with these cards, that’s why I had them floating around so long. The packaging seemed fine to me and the card looks ok.

  28. While purchasing a “dud” would be terrible, what worries me is if these scheme propagate or become too difficult to stop, visa will stop offering cards – or make a two step verification process or something which would lead to extra steps, add hassle, and possibly a loss of anonymity. “Hey Chris, that’s you for your 20th verification this week, we’ve let the irs know that you’ve done nothing illegal but you sure do process a lot of money. “. Not that there is anything to hide but I would quit before being required to deal with the irs.

    • I’m equally worried about the Secret Service and their itchy trigger fingers when it comes to civil forfeiture.

  29. Happened to me in March, still waiting for a refund. Had to fax copy of card and receipt. Then was sent an affidavit to fill out, which also required filing a police report since someone unloaded the balance at a Walmart. My solution is to not buy these insecure cards, it is a known problem to them. Now I just stick to Staples and Simon Malls.

    • I got an affidavit to fill out, but I did not report to police when someone drained money out at Walmart and CVS. Can I report to police now after one month happened?

  30. I had something similar happen to me with a $500 GC I purchased at a grocery store back in January. My case is still open and I haven’t gotten all my money back. I have since stopped buying GCs at grocery stores. I found it useful to keep up with this flyertalk thread, which is devoted entirely to gift card fraud: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/manufactured-spending/1588993-gift-card-fraud.html

    Traveling with Grant also had a useful post about a similar GC fraud from February of this year: http://travelwithgrant.boardingarea.com/2015/02/08/gift-card-warning-check-packaging-for-signs-of-tampering/

  31. I had this happened to me at a local grocery store. After I had removed the card from the package, the last 4 digits were scratched off. I inspected the packaging and it does not look like it was tempered with. I called the # on the back of the card right away and the agent on the phone was able to close this card and send me a new one in the mail. Now everytime I buy cards from that grocery store, I would request to have the card opened first before I purchase it.

  32. Crazy. Thanks for passing along. Great tip, but it seems like a pain to open them during the transaction. Do you think you’ll actually do that, or just deal with it if/when this happens to you? Has there been a conclusion to Paul’s story? Did he get his $500 back? (I assume yes, given the other bad cards he and the manager found at the store.)


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