I like to think I’m pretty good at spotting compromised gift cards; I’ve found and destroyed upwards of 1,000 over the last decade. In fact as far as I know, I’ve only actually purchased four compromised cards prior to last week. Then last week, my compromised card count increased by an eye-popping 25% (or 2,500 basis points because it sounds even bigger) when I bought a compromised Pathward Mastercard at Kroger.

Side note: I was already suspicious of that particular gift card because the security flap was too easy to remove, but the store had very low stock, I was in a hurry, and I was heading out of the country later that day, so I threw caution into the wind very stupidly. Don’t be stupid like me, and don’t be afraid to open a gift card in store and inspect it before buying it.

The Compromise

I opened the card in the parking lot, found a few clues that the card had been compromised:

  • The package was held together with super-glue
  • The CVV gummy was balled up
  • Removing the CVV gummy showed a scratched off code
  • The front of the card had four numbers scratched off

I know it may sound difficult to figure out that the card was compromised with nothing but those four clues, but luckily I did! So great.

When you have a compromised card, it’s a race against time to get it frozen and fixed before the card scammers are able to realize that the card was purchased and active, which is why it’s important to open and inspect cards as quickly as possible.

The Fix

I dialed the toll free number on the back of the card in my car at the Kroger parking lot, and I got stuck in Pathward’s automated call system. The system was repeatedly asking for a card number, and then hanging up on me after three failed attempts. I obviously failed every attempt because I didn’t have a full card number or CVV. Entering all 0s, 1s, or random numbers didn’t get me past the call tree, and neither did acting dumb and not entering anything either.

After a few frustrating minutes, I realized that another non-compromised Pathward Mastercard would have a valid number, so I got one of those and used its information, which got me through the automated system to talk to a human. The human was able to freeze the funds on the compromised card and issue a replacement by mail after looking it up using information on the barcode and about how it was loaded.

The Lesson

Gift card companies do their best to avoid talking to humans, and that means when a scammer scratches numbers off of cards, you may not be able to talk to a human when every minute counts. So, the point of this article:

On your phone, keep a list of gift card numbers, CVVs, and expiration dates for old, drained cards for every issuer and card type that you typically buy. Then, if you encounter a stubborn robot phone system, you’ll have quick information ready to get through to a human.

Happy Thursday!

Next up: Following the clues to decipher restaurant hidden messages.