Former police officer warns of tricky gift card scam at Shoppers Drug Mart
Gift cards can be an absolute life-saver for people in need of last-minute presents for birthdays, Christmas, and or ones who are impossible to shop for — but they're not always without risk, especially these days.
Nichelle Laus, a fitness influencer, business owner and former police officer, frequently shares safety tips with her more than one million followers on Instagram and TikTok.
This week, the mother of four took to both platforms with a warning for anyone who intends on buying gift cards for loved ones this holiday season after nearly getting scammed into paying for some crook's LCBO haul.
"I almost got scammed," she says in a video filmed at a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Etobicoke. "I want you to pay particular attention, especially while holiday shopping, to be very careful with gift cards."
Laus explains while standing in front of a rack of gift cards at the store that she had walked up intending to purchase $100 worth of credits for PlayStation.
"So I picked up the first one, and I just felt the back, and if you can see, there's a fake barcode on that," she says, showing the back of a card with a slightly raised barcode section that becomes more apparent when shown side-by-side against an unaltered card.
"So, what happens is, the scammers take these empty cards home, and they put their own barcode on top here. You can almost feel it... I don't know if you can see it, but it's an actual fake one on there."
Laus then takes the fake card up to the cash register at Shoppers to get it scanned. She notes in the caption of her video that the cashier and store manager were already "very aware" of the scam, and happy to help Laus spread the word so that others don't get similarly ripped off.
When scanned at the checkout, the barcode brings up information for an LCBO gift card as opposed to the PlayStation card it looked like.
"So to reiterate what happened, I grabbed a PlayStation card, but it actually had an LCBO barcode on it," she explains. "So what the scammer has at home somewhere is that LCBO card, and that card would have got loaded with the $100 had I paid for this card."
Laus warned in her caption that, while the particular cashier she dealt with at the Toronto store was aware of the scam, workers at other stores and companies might not be as familiar.
"What you need to do is make sure the barcode is okay, and of course you check that at the cash," she advises, asking viewers to tell their friends and family members.
"You need to be aware... If not, a fake card will get loaded that belongs to the scammer, and the one you think you're loading will actually be empty."
As it turns out, she's far from the only Canadian who has been victimized (or almost victimized) by this particular scam.
Hundreds of people have commented on Lau's Instagram Reel about the cards to share their own warnings and experiences.
"This happened to me buying my son a gift card for his birthday. Months of back and forth with Shoppers Drug Mart to finally get reimbursed," reads one comment. "These need to be kept behind the cash. Shoppers is the one out of pocket. No idea why they still keep them out for anyone to grab and change the bar code. I don’t buy gift cards anymore. Period."
"This happened to me," reads another. "I bought an Amazon gift card from Sobeys for $200 and now I can't use it. Neither Sobeys or Amazon will refund me my money."
Laus first warned her followers on TikTok of the gift card scam about three weeks ago in a video shot at home, soliciting some scary stories from her fellow consumers.
"I saw two ladies at Walmart taking lots of cards out of their purses and placing them in the card holder and walked out. I told the manager, he did nothing," wrote one commenter.
"This happened to me," wrote another. "I bought a $250 Home Depot card at Shoppers Drug Mart and as I left the store, I noticed it was Esso."
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