Archive for Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Schmidt: Caution with gift cards

December 20, 2011

With Christmas just a few days away, many of us will be searching for that perfect last-minute gift. For some of those hard-to-buy-for people on our lists, gift cards can seem like the perfect solution.

But know some tips and rules about gift cards to protect yourself and the gift recipient. Here are a few things you should know:

Under Kansas law, gift cards cannot expire for at least five years. If the gift card does not have an expiration date on it, then it is good until you redeem it, no matter how long that is.

Merchants can begin charging inactivity fees against the card’s balance 12 months after the card is issued. These fees are required to be printed on the card or the packaging it comes in.

Pre-paid bank cards – the ones that are issued by a bank or credit card company, not by a specific store – can, and usually do, charge additional fees for purchasing the card, and on the balance.

Be aware that even with legal protections in place, the value of a gift card may be lost if the store goes out of business before the card is used.

When buying a gift card, try to be sure it is from a store the person will use. Make sure to buy gift cards from a reputable source — such as from the store itself. There are a number of online auction sites and gift card dealers, which offer cards at a discounted price, but you should always use caution when buying cards this way. There have been reports of many cards sold on these sites being counterfeit or otherwise not working when they are received.

Be sure to include the original receipts with the card. This will help the recipient replace the card if it is lost or stolen.

If you are the recipient of a card, you should use the card as soon as you can to avoid expiration dates, inactivity fees or the possibility the card gets lost. Many retailers will allow you to register your cards online, which will protect your balance and help you replace the card if it is lost or stolen.

If you happen to receive a card for a place you do not shop, it is unlikely that the retailer will let you exchange your card for cash. However, there are websites that allow you to sell or exchange your gift cards. Again, use caution when dealing with these online sites to be sure you don’t become a victim of fraud. You can also donate your unwanted gift cards to a local charity, especially cards for grocery, clothing or department stores.

For more consumer tips or to file a complaint, visit our website at www.ksag.org or give us a call at 1-800-432-2310.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season.

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