I was in a retail store today, and these people were discussing how easy it is for people to use stolen credit cards, and buy those visa gift cards without being traced after they purchase the gift cards.

I find this very hard to believe because

A) when you purchase a visa gift card they send the gift card number to the server to the company that owns those gift cards to have it activate it, and I am sure they log which store that happened at, too.

B) I am sure they can monitor that gift card and it will leave a paper trail just like a credit card.

Am I wrong?

  • Gift cards are purchased online to make it harder to trace, then traded or sold at a discount to a 3rd party.
    – schroeder
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 9:52
  • 5
    Where I live, these "gift credit cards" can be purchased in grocery stores. As long as you pay with cash, I doubt it can be traced, like pre-paid sim card (if proper precaution is taken)
    – Jeroen
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 8:11
  • My debit card was used over the weekend to purchase several of these. I know for sure because I called the Walgreens stores where it was used and they could see exactly what the perp had bought. So, are these prepaid cards somehow linked to my debit card? If the person uses the prepaid card will the police be able to trace and link purchases made with that card back to my debit card to try to find this person?
    – user128522
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 19:19

2 Answers 2


A) Yes, they do keep track of purchases. Almost all prepaid gift cards require some form of registration where they collect different data about you: name, address, zip code, phone number, etc.

B) It will. The gift card becomes an account, and you can review your purchase history just like a regular credit card.

However, you can be a liar when you activate the card, and put in fake information. You can go to a store reasonably far away, or to a very busy store (my local pharmacy is always stuffed). You can also pay with cash, which means you don't have records from a credit card company to link your identity with. And, if you're smart with your purchases (don't attempt to order drugs to your house) they can't get any information from the merchant.

tl;dr: If you have cash, you avoid most of the tracking. If you lie to the company, it's very easy to dodge identification.

  • With cash this is true only for coins. Banknotes have an unique number (unless they're faked). Try Bitcoins, diamonds, gold nuggets.
    – ott--
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 20:11
  • 2
    @ott-- Considering that the lions share of retailers do not take stock of the serial numbers on the bank notes as they arrive and depart, I imagine tying a serial # on bank note to an individual would be a monolithic task at best.
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 12:47
  • @ott: all bitcoins transactions are recorded in a public ledger (the block chain), and it is fairly easy to trace. There are lots of caveats to use Bitcoin in an untraceable way, unless you take care of these caveats, it is usually easier to be untraceable with cash than with Bitcoin.
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 3:45
  • @DKNUCKLES When the store submits its cash earnings to the bank(daily, for any medium-size store), all serialnumbers are scanned.
    – user2497
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 22:16

A) Personally, I have purchased several VISA gift cards. While no registration is required to activate the card itself, if you wish to purchase items online, you may need to register a ZIP code. You could enter your local ZIP or even a ZIP from across the country, as long as it lines up with the billing information you give the online merchant (the one the transaction will go through provided there are funds).

B) Every transaction made with the card is tracked and reviewable through Go Wallet or vanilla VISA, but the paper trail is null because there is no name or contact information linked to the card.

The conversation you overheard could also be related to the purchasing of gift cards online with already stolen card data, in which case it would be much more difficult for law enforcement agencies to track the criminal.

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