What is the 'card draining' scam? Police warn holiday shoppers purchasing gift cards

Police are warning holiday shoppers to be on the lookout for an ongoing gift card scam known as "card draining," impacting hundreds of gift cards across the country. 

In California, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office successfully carried out "Operation Bad Elf," a sting operation that went down at big shopping chains such as Target, Walgreens and Walmart from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3. 

It resulted in 285 felony and misdemeanor arrests involving an international gift card scam. 

FOX 29 Philadelphia also reported on Dec. 1, that hundreds of gift cards at a Pennsylvania grocery store were impacted.

In a separate social media post by the Pinole Police Department located in Pinole, California, roughly 23 miles north of San Francisco, an officer identified as Sgt. Duggan explained how the scam works. 

The scheme involves the scammers removing gifts cards from sealed envelopes and slicing away the code that the recipient needs to activate the card, Pinole police warned in an Instagram video.

Then the crooks re-seal the envelope with the smaller gift card before returning it to shelves for unsuspecting customers to purchase. 

When someone buys the card after it's been tampered with, the scammers can then tap into the money that has been added to it, police said. 

What to watch for

When you're buying a gift card, make sure to check the packages before purchasing them. Do they look tampered with?

"What we're advising to do when you guys are buying gift cards is feel for the entire card — it should be the same size as a credit card," said Duggan, "or with the permission of the store when you go up to purchase these, as you ar purchasing them, remove them from these folders and actually make sure that the whole card is actually there.

KTVU contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.