Gift cards are more popular than ever, but consumer advocates say that billions of dollars in gift cards go unused each year. While a 2010 change in the law extended consumer protections by restricting fees and expiration dates, keep in mind that gift cards eventually expire.
TIPS FOR USING GIFT CARDS
If you have a gift card, be smart about how you use it, advises the Federal Trade Commission:
- Read any fine print on the card and take note of any terms and conditions. Check for an expiration date or fees.
- If it appears that the value of your card has expired, or that fees have been deducted, contact the company that issued the card. They may still honor the card or reverse the fees.
- Ask the person giving you the card for the card’s terms and conditions, the original purchase receipt, or the card’s ID number; keep this information in a safe place.
- Use your card as soon as you can. It’s not unusual to misplace gift cards or forget you have them; using them early will help you get the full value.
- Treat your card like cash. If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. You may not recover any of the value that was on the card. Some issuers will not replace cards that are lost or stolen, but other issuers will, for a fee. You may need to show proof of purchase and the ID number on the card. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers you can call to report a lost or stolen card.
- A company that files for bankruptcy may honor its gift cards, or a competitor may accept the card. Call the company or its competitor to find out. Even if the company is not redeeming gift cards now, check back with them periodically; they may start redeeming cards at a later date.
TIPS FOR BUYING GIFT CARDS
- Buy from sources you know and trust. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites, because the cards may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.
- Inspect the card before you buy it. Verify that none of the protective stickers have been removed. Make sure that the codes on the back of the card haven’t been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.
PROBLEMS AND COMPLAINTS
If you have a problem with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card. If you can’t resolve the problem at that level, you may want to file a complaint with the appropriate authorities: