Two-thirds of Americans are expected to spend $25 billion on gift cards this holiday season.
"Good Morning America's" consumer correspondent Elisabeth Leamy, however, found that the popular presents came with a consumer alert.
Thieves have found a way to spend money on gift cards, and the cards themselves can come with some expensive strings attached.
The gift-card scam works as follows: Crooks copy the unique serial numbers of gift cards on store displays.
Over the next few days, they call the gift-card company to see whether any of the cards have been purchased and activated.
When they find a live one, they use the gift-card number to shop online.
"What a terrible shock," said Evan Johnson of the Montgomery County, Md., consumer affairs commission. "Talk about a downer for the holidays to find out that somebody has stolen the money for this gift that somebody really wanted you to have."
The National Retail Federation says stores have added security measures to prevent the gift-card scam, but some consumers have lost money.
In addition to enticing thieves, some gift cards charge fees that eat up the balance.
A Montgomery County, Md., study found that most retail stores had felt the pressure and stopped these practices.
"There's reason to be happy because there's a lot of good retail cards out there now," Johnson said.
By contrast, the study found that most credit-card company gift cards still charged processing fees of up to $10 per purchase and maintenance fees that could start the first month.
Leamy and Becky Worley, "Good Morning America's" technology contributor, offered tips for buying and using gift cards.
Before purchasing any gift card, read the fine print to make sure you can live with the rules and fees.
To protect yourself from scams, don't buy a gift card if the package has been opened or the scratch-off security code has been uncovered. Have the cashier scan the card to verify the amount of money on it. Keep the receipt in case you need to get a replacement.
Buy gift cards from reputable vendors. Don't get them on eBay. If someone is selling a $250 gift card for $200, the deal is probably too good to be true.
If you receive a gift card, use it soon. While it can be tempting to hoard away cards for future use, spending them quickly can prevent you from paying maintenance fees and dodging expiration dates.