When you’re at a loss about buying a gift for a partner, friend, or relative, a gift card seems like a good idea. Or is it?The popularity of gift cards has turned them into a multibillion-dollar business, reports The Washington Post article “The Holiday Shuffle.” However, in the gift card game, the rules keep changing.
The Federal Trade Commission offers consumers these gift cards tips:
Buying gift cards
- Be aware there are two types: (1) retail gift cards, which are sold by retailers and restaurants, and can be used only with those merchants. Retail gift cards may have expiration dates or a fee for inactivity that sometimes is called a “dormancy fee,” and (2) bank gift cards, which carry the logo of a payment card network such as VISA or MasterCard, and can be used at any location accepting cards from that network. Fees for activation, maintenance, or transactions are more likely on bank gift cards than on retail gift cards.
- Buy from sources you know and trust.
- Read the fine print before you buy.
- Ask about expiration dates and fees when you’re buying a card.
- Consider purchase fees: Is a fee charged to buy the card? If you buy the card online or on the phone, is there a fee for shipping and handling?
- Find out if fees may be deducted from the card, including activation, maintenance, or transaction fees. Fees could gobble up most of the amount.
- Inspect the card before you buy it. Verify that none of the protective stickers have been removed, and make sure that the codes on the back of the card haven’t been scratched off to reveal a PIN number.
- Give the recipient the original receipt to verify the card’s purchase in case it’s lost or stolen.
- Consider the financial condition of the business and whether it has filed for bankruptcy.
Using gift cards
- Read the terms and conditions when you get the card, and check for an expiration date or any fees.
- Get the card’s terms and conditions, the original purchase receipt, and the card’s ID number from the person who gave you the card, if they didn't come with the card, and keep them in a safe place.
- Treat your card like cash. If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately.
- Use your card as soon as you can so it doesn’t get lost and you can receive full value.
If you have a problem, contact the company that issued the gift card. If you can’t resolve the issue, you can file a complaint.
For cards issued by retailers, consumers can contact the commission at www.ftc.gov or call toll-free: 877-FTC-HELP. Or you may file a complaint with your state attorney general. For a list of state offices, visit www.naag.org.
For cards issued by national banks, contact the Comptroller of the Currency’s Customer Assistance Group by calling 800-613-6743 or sending an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.