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A consumer’s guide to gift cards

Better Business Bureau

As the deadline for gift-buying approaches, many turn to gift cards for the people on their list. According to a holiday shopping survey by National Retail Federation, gift cards are the most popular gift item — 61 percent of those surveyed want them.

There are two types of gift cards — retail gift cards that can only be used at certain establishments and bank gift cards that function like cash or credit and can be used anywhere.

In 2010, the FTC put in place consumer protection measures for gift cards, stating that money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years. Inactivity fees can be charged only if a card hasn’t been used for at least one year. The expiration date must be clearly disclosed on the card and any fees must be clearly disclosed on the card or its packaging.

While gift cards can be a good “one-size-fits-all” kind of gift, BBB recommends these considerations before making a gift card purchase:

  • Read the fine print. Search the packaging and the card itself for fees, expiration dates and terms and conditions.

 

  • Buy from trustworthy sources. Buy from sources you know and trust. Avoid online auction sites, as these gift cards may be counterfeit or obtained illegally. Remember that if an establishment goes out of business, the value of the gift card is lost, so it’s important to consider the reputation and financial condition of the retailer or restaurant.

 

  • Examine the card and packaging for tampering. It is common for thieves to record a card’s PIN and put it back on the shelf. Once the card is bought and activated, they will use the information they have captured to make a purchase online. The safest gift cards are those in thick plastic casing.

 

  • Keep the receipt and record the numbers. In the event that the card is lost or stolen, the receipt and numbers will protect the card’s balance.

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