By Tim McNicholas

CHICAGO (CBS) — A warning as you start your holiday shopping: never trust a seller who demands gift cards as payment. Consumer experts say that’s a major red flag.

One suburban woman told CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas she learned that lesson the hard way.

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“I can’t get my refund,” Ann Williams said.

She spent $2,000 on a stack of gift cards, but there’s nothing she can do with them.

“I’m not, like, a well-off person. Just check to check,” she said.

Her frustrating tale starts on Facebook Marketplace, where she saw a 2007 Volkswagen Beetle for sale.

“It’s very reliable, nice to look at; like, unique,” she said.

The seller told Williams it would actually be an eBay transaction, and even sent over a phony eBay Motors invoice.

They said to complete the deal, she’d have to buy $2,000 worth of eBay gift cards and relay the numbers on the back. So she went to Walgreens and Best Buy, and now she’s kicking herself for missing the red flags.

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“No matter what I do, I always do my homework ahead of time. For this purpose, I did not do it ahead of time,” she said.

The Federal Trade Commission says gift cards are a popular tool for scammers, because once someone spends the money on a card, you’re probably not getting it back. The FTC says any time someone demands payment with a gift card, it’s a scam.

Gift card scams are so prevalent best buy produced a video to warn consumers, urging them to “Help spread the world. Help stop the scam.”

Walgreens posts signs about the dangers in their stores, and also has information warning about gift card scams on its website.

“Horrible. There should be some consequence for these people,” Williams said.

She thought she’d have a Beetle in her garage by now. Instead she wound up contacting the police.

“They tried to trace it. They could not find the trace. They’re outta the country,” she said.

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We can’t stress enough, no legitimate seller of anything would demand payment in gift cards. It’s always a scam.

Tim McNicholas