SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Gift cars remain one of the most popular presents in America, but more and more consumers are having issues with the cards when they try to use them at designated shops.

Alex Stevenson encountered a problem when she tried to use a Best Buy gift card to buy a new television set.

“It was rejecting the card and he didn’t understand why,” said Stevenson. “It was actually a gift from my sister.”

The $200 Best Buy gift card she’d just received for her birthday had a zero balance.

“I had it all wrapped up, still in the cardboard,” said Stevenson.

She said hadn’t even taken it out of its wrapper until she got to the store.

And she’s not alone.

Captain Joe Pierucci of the Daly City Police Department told CBS San Francisco that for years, criminals were copying the numbers off gift cards on public displays and then returning them to the rack to wait until they were activated.

Thieves could then drain the balance, sometimes even before the recipient received their gift.

One of the tricks of the trade? So-called “zebra” stickers that can be used to cover up scratched-off security panels so buyers don’t realize their cards have been tampered with.

CBS San Francisco found the stickers for sale on Amazon.

“We would like the stores to remove the cards from public access,” said Pierucci.

Security experts say criminals are also getting the numbers through data breaches and by hacking into store’s gift card data bases.

On June 1st, Australian retailer Woolworth’s experienced a data breach that led to AUS $1.3 million worth of gift card numbers being leaked online.

Neither Safeway — where Stevenson’s card was purchased — nor Best Buy could tell CBS San Francisco how her card was breached.

However, Best Buy said the card was drained the day after it was purchased.

The safest place to buy gift cards is directly from the retailer. Consumers are advised to ask for cards kept behind the counter as opposed to cards kept on public display.

After CBS San Francisco contacted Best Buy, the store agreed to give Stevenson a new $200 gift card.

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