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How do you get the code of a gift card without scratching it?

Gift cards have become increasingly popular over the years as an easy gift-giving option. However, some people want to obtain the gift card code without scratching off the protective strip covering it. There are a few different ways this can be accomplished.

Using Technology to Read Codes

One method for revealing gift card codes without scratching them is by using technology that can read the code through the protective strip. This can be done in a couple of different ways:

  • Barcode/QR code reader apps – Many gift cards have the card number encoded into a barcode or QR code printed on the back. Camera apps can scan and read these codes without needing to scratch off the covering.
  • RFID readers – Some gift cards with more advanced technology have RFID chips embedded that contain the card number. An RFID reader device can obtain the card code by scanning the chip, even through the protective strip.

The benefit of using one of these methods is that it does not require physically scratching or removing the strip on the gift card. The code can be read right through it. The downside is that not all gift cards have barcode/QR codes or RFID chips. Only some newer or more high-tech gift cards contain these technologies.

Chemical Approaches

Another approach to reveal gift card codes is by using chemicals to essentially dissolve the scratch-off strip covering the code. Some household chemicals that can work for this include:

  • Nail polish remover – The acetone in nail polish remover can slowly dissolve the protective sticker and expose the code underneath. It may take applying it multiple times and letting it soak in to get through the covering.
  • Rubbing alcohol – Applying rubbing alcohol to the scratch-off strip can also wear it down gradually and make the code visible without scratching.
  • Vegetable oil – Oils like vegetable oil or coconut oil can also break down the scratch-off material over time if applied regularly. The oil seeps under the strip and loosens the bond.

The advantage of using chemicals is that they are readily available household items. However, it does take more time and effort than just scratching off the strip. The chemicals need to be applied repeatedly and given time to soak in and dissolve the covering. It can take 15 minutes or more depending on the gift card.

Steam Method

Exposing gift card codes can also be done by applying steam to the scratch-off strip. The heat and moisture from the steam can cause the strip to gradually peel up and reveal the code underneath. This can be done carefully using either:

  • A kettle – Holding the spout of a steamy kettle near the strip loosens the scratch-off coating after about 30 seconds. Repeating this on the edges gradually peels it up.
  • Iron – Using the steam function on an iron aimed lightly at the strip for short intervals can also wear down the material.
  • Hair dryer – A hair dryer on a high heat setting can generate enough concentrated steam to lift the strip if you hold it close enough.

Steam is an accessible method since most households have a steam-producing device. However, it requires holding the heat source very close and using short intervals to avoid damaging the gift card. Done carefully, the steam can remove the scratch-off strip in just a few minutes.

Freezing Method

In some cases, extreme temperature changes can also cause the scratch-off strip to peel off or crack enough to expose the code. One approach using this is to freeze the gift card, which can make the protective coating more brittle and prone to cracking or peeling when scratched or flexed. Steps include:

  1. Place the gift card in a sealable plastic bag or wrap it in plastic wrap.
  2. Put the wrapped card in the freezer for 1-2 hours until completely frozen.
  3. Remove the frozen card and flex it slightly which may cause the frozen strip to crack.
  4. Use a toothpick or your fingernail to scrape lightly at the cracked/peeling areas to reveal the code.

Freezing gift cards prior to scratching or picking can make removing the coverings easier. However it may take some trial and error to get the technique right without damaging the card.

Heating Method

Similar to freezing, heating a gift card can also weaken the scratch-off strip by making the adhesive under it liquefy. This allows the strip to be peeled or scraped off more easily. Steps include:

  1. Place the gift card on a piece of foil or metal surface.
  2. Use a lighter, candle, or other flame and hold it beneath the card near the scratch-off strip for 1-2 seconds.
  3. Heat just a small section at a time until it slightly bubbles or peels.
  4. Once heated, quickly scrape away the warmed strip section with a coin or your fingernail.

Heating is very effective at loosening the scratch-off coating but must be done carefully to avoid burning the card or heating it too quickly. When done properly, just a couple seconds of controlled heating allows effortless removal of the strip.

Cutting the Strip

If all else fails, physically cutting or slicing the scratch-off strip is another option. This requires using a very sharp, precise blade. Steps include:

  1. Tape down the gift card on a cutting board or hard surface.
  2. Carefully slice into one edge of the strip using an X-Acto knife, box cutter, or razor blade.
  3. Once cut, lift up the loose edge gently and make further slices as needed to cut away the strip.

Slicing open the scratch-off coating in this manner avoids having to scratch off the entire surface. However it does require a very steady, delicate hand. Rushing increases the risk of cutting too deeply and damaging the card number printed underneath.

Photographing Codes

Some gift cards have the code printed onto the card surface itself (under the scratch strip). In these cases, it may be possible to photograph and enlarge the number through the strip once the outer packaging is removed. Steps for this technique include:

  1. Carefully open the gift card packaging and remove the card without scratching off the strip.
  2. Hold the card up to a bright light source to illuminate the area under the strip.
  3. Use macro photo mode on a smartphone to take a very close up picture of the area with the code.
  4. Enlarge the photo and adjust clarity as needed until the code becomes legible.

This non-invasive method won’t work on all cards, but can be very effective when the internal code is printed in a high contrast and large font. With good lighting and zoom, even small blurred digits can sometimes be deciphered.

Invisible Ink Detection

Some gift card manufacturers print the code underneath the scratch-off strip using invisible ink that can only be revealed under certain light. A blacklight flashlight can make these otherwise invisible numbers glow, allowing the code to be read. The steps are:

  1. Obtain a small UV blacklight flashlight ($10-$20 online).
  2. Go into a dark room and shine the blacklight over the scratch-off strip on the gift card.
  3. Check for any glowing numbers that indicate invisible ink.
  4. Write down or photograph the revealed code.

Only a small percentage of cards use invisible ink for their codes, but it does occur occasionally. When it does, a blacklight provides a quick, easy way to uncover the code that avoids scratching altogether.

Code Lookup Methods

For most major gift card brands, it is also possible to look up the card number online using just the partially revealed information outside the scratch-off strip. This avoids fully removing the strip. Steps include:

  1. Carefully scratch off only the last 5 digits of the code outside the scratch-off strip.
  2. Go to a gift card code lookup website and enter the gift card brand and visible digits.
  3. The site will display the full associated valid code number.

As long as the visible digits are entered correctly, code lookup sites can reliably retrieve the full working code. This eliminates the need to scratch off the rest of the strip.

Key Code Lookup Tips

  • Double check visible digits entered are accurate – single mistakes result in incorrect codes.
  • Most sites charge small fees ($1-$5) to lookup codes as a paid service.
  • Legitimate code lookup services offer money-back guarantees if retrieved codes don’t work.
  • Avoid sites that require excessive personal details which increases scam risk.

Overall code lookups provide a fast and convenient way to get gift card codes. Just be sure to use reputable services with guarantees and safe payment options.

Trying Multiple Gift Cards

When validating gift cards in stores, cashiers typically just check that the visible digits outside the strip match. In most cases they don’t verify if the covered code itself has been scratched off. Knowing this, one sneaky method is to repeatedly try gift cards with the same batch number:

  1. Buy multiple gift cards with identical visible digits on the packaging.
  2. Scratch off only one to reveal the full code.
  3. Check the balance by providing the code to the cashier when purchasing.
  4. If there is remaining balance, keep using the same scratched card to spend the balance.
  5. When the balance runs out, open a new card with the same digits. Rinse and repeat.

This unethical lifehack takes advantage of gift card validation limitations. While often effective, it essentially exploits flaws in retailer practices when checking card numbers. Use with caution.

Social Engineering Methods

For less tech-savvy gift card recipients, it may also be possible to obtain the card code using social engineering tricks, such as:

  • Offering to check the balance – Volunteering to call or go online to check the remaining value for them, then noting the code.
  • Swapping the card – Exchanging the card for a different one temporarily to get a chance to scratch off and redeem the code.
  • Watching over their shoulder – Carefully observing as they scratch the card to peek at the revealed code.

These techniques rely on manipulating the person to expose the code themselves unintentionally. However they are ethically very questionable methods at best, bordering on outright fraud if used against less informed recipients.

Code Generation Software

Some advanced software tools exist that claim to generate active gift card codes for major brands. Typically these programs use algorithms to generate hundreds of numeric code combinations, then test them systematically until finding active confirmed codes.

The legitimacy of such software is questionable, and use likely violates cardholder agreements. But the technology exists underground for those inclined to obtain codes through exploit rather than purchase. Obtaining access often requires joining private online groups.

Employee Insider Access

Having an insider employee source is one of the most direct ways to easily obtain gift card data. Potential sources include:

  • Retail cashiers – Can note down codes at time of purchase or activation.
  • Stock room staff – May have access to cards before packaging and distribution.
  • Corporate IT staff – Could query databases of active card numbers.

The downside is finding a willing employee source and establishing enough trust. Most legitimate staff would be unwilling to jeopardize their job by stealing card data. But some staff may be persuaded by bribes to occasionally share code details, or “lose” a few cards.


Accessing gift card codes without physically scratching off the strip has advantages for balance checking or maintaining card condition. Methods range from high-tech code reading to social engineering tricks. However most techniques tread into unethical territory, with risks like legal issues or account bans. For these reasons, simply scratching off gift card stickers as intended remains the recommended approach for most law-abiding card users.