RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s the time of the season when gift card purchases increase but gift cards have a dark side because they can be used to scam you. 

A gift card makes a nice little addition to many people’s holiday offerings to others. 

“I buy a few to fill in the gaps in certain things,” said Raleigh resident Mike Kelly 

Gift cards are convenient, can be purchased almost anywhere, give quick access to cash, and aren’t connected to a bank account – all good reasons why they are also the choice of scammers. 

“It’s a $3.3 billion industry,” said Jenny Grounds of the Cybercrime Support Network. “They’re really getting smart about how they scam people.”  

The Federal Trade Commission said the median amount victims lost to gift card scammers this year was $1,000.

Last year it was $700 and it cuts across all age groups. 

Eilish Dant said she doesn’t use gift cards. 

“I’d rather use cash,” she said. 

Even so,  the Better Business Bureau reports gift cards are among the most requested gifts on holiday wish lists. 

If you buy a gift card off the rack in a store, the BBB said to be aware scammers are now wiping those cards clean before you ever buy them. 

“My mom…bought gift cards and they didn’t work,” said Cindy Trice. “Someone had already come in to store and recorded the number off the back and just left them there in the store. 

In that case, as soon as you pay for the gift card, the number is already registered, and the cash goes immediately goes into the scammer’s bank account. 

To avoid that, only buy gift cards in tamper-proof packaging if you are purchasing them from a rack in a store. 

Consider buying gift cards online, direct from the merchant, and even then, you should change its PIN as soon as it is activated. 

It’s estimated 33 percent of us have been grifted by gift-card scammers.  

It happened to a friend of Mike Kelly. 

“They basically were asked to provide info from the back of the gift card,” he said. They gave it out.” 

Seconds later that money was unrecoverable and in the hands of a scammer. 

Your basic protection against gift card fraud is simple: no legitimate business will demand payment via gift cards. 

Just keep reminding yourself, those cards are for gifting not payments.