There’s got to be at least one of you reading right now who still doesn’t have a holiday gift picked out. If you’re hitting the stores today, I’d wager a guess that you might end up picking up gift cards. And, I’d be even more willing to bet many of you have received or will receive gift cards this holiday season. According to a holiday shopping survey by the National Retail Federation, gift cards are the most popular gift items — 61 percent of those surveyed want them.
Gift cards are a great gift because of their ease and versatility. To make the experience even easier, the FTC put in place consumer protection measures for gift cards in 2010. The rules state: money on a gift card can’t expire for at least five years; inactivity fees can be charged only after a card hasn’t been used for at least one year; and the expiration date must be clearly disclosed on the card and any fees must be clearly disclosed on the card or its packaging.
Although gift cards are a great one-size-fits-all gift, there are still a few things to consider when buying them. Better Business Bureau recommends you:
Research before buying. The best place to purchase a gift card is directly from the retailer, whether in-store or online. Consumers can also research businesses at bbb.org to see a company’s BBB Business Profile, which includes its history of complaints and customer reviews. BBB recommends avoiding discount and online auction sites, as gift cards there may be counterfeit or stolen.
Read the fine print. Fully understand how the card works. Find out if there are any fees associated with buying or using the card.
Inspect the card before buying. Verify that protective stickers have not been removed and that the PIN on the back of the card is not exposed. Report any damaged cards to the store.
Provide a gift receipt with the gift card. Give the recipient of the gift card a gift receipt in case the card is lost, stolen or there is a discrepancy with the balance.
If you receive a gift card this holiday season:
Check the date. 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.
Obtain proof of purchase. Ask the person giving you the card for the original purchase receipt, or the card’s ID number and keep this information in a safe place.
Use before you lose. 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 may, 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.