So you'd like to buy a gift card, eh?

It’s an increasing problem in the Garden State: People are being convinced by scam artists to pay for something fraudulent using gift cards.

In response, Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli, D-Mercer, is pushing a plan that would require retailers that sell gift cards to post signs and train employees about gift card fraud, and have those employees talk to customers if something seems fishy.

Scammers have convinced people to pay supposed back taxes, bail for relatives or nonexistent debts by sending the money through gift cards. Legitimate government agencies and utilities do not accept payment through gift cards.

Verrelli said his legislation establishes a protocol on questions to ask if a retail employee notices an individual is buying gift cards worth a lot of money. The conversation might go something along the lines of “you mind telling me what’s going on? Have you been pressured? Is someone calling from someplace else? Is this a bill that you need to pay?”

He pointed out the bad actor may tell someone “hey, this is a bill, we have your computer that needs work or we have an individual in your family that needs assistance and they’re either in the United States or they’re in another country and they need assistance now.”

He explained if scam artists convince someone to make a payment to them, it may be impossible to get the money back.

“Once the funds are loaded onto a gift card, the damage is already done. Pre-paid gift cards aren’t associated with any individual bank accounts so money loaded onto the card isn’t insured and it’s a tough legal recourse to recover the spent funds.”

He said when this happens, “the person is out that money which could affect their financial future in the short term and the long term.”

His measure would require signs to be posted in stores where gift cards are sold, advising customers not to provide gift card information to someone they do not know and to contact law enforcement if the customer thinks they could be the victim of fraud.

It also stipulates a retail mercantile establishment that does not post a sign or train employees about gift card fraud as required is subject to a civil penalty in the amount of $1,000.

The measure has been passed by the Assembly and is currently pending in the state Senate.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com