Gift cards make excellent presents, especially during the holidays when you’re unsure of what to buy for a family member or friend. But like everything else, a gift card is a purchase, typically including rules for use, conditions and sometimes fees. To ensure your gift doesn’t include an unpleasant “surprise”, your BBB urges consumers to read the fine print before they buy gift cards for gifts.
Both the United States and Canada have recently made changes in federal laws to improve consumers’ chances of getting full value out of the cards they buy and give. These rules generally apply to gift certificates, store gift cards and general use prepaid cards, which are often branded by payment networks such as Visa or MasterCard.
There are still conditions that may be imposed though, so here are some helpful tips from your BBB regarding gift card purchase:
1). 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.
2). Read the fine print before you buy. Is there a fee to buy the card? If you buy a card by phone or online, are there shipping and handling fees? If you don’t like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.
3). See whether any fees will be deducted from the card after you purchase it, either now or later down the road. Consider if these terms are appropriate for the recipient.
4). 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.
5). Give the recipient your original receipt so they can verify the card’s purchase in case it is lost or stolen.
6). Consider the financial condition of the retailer or restaurant. It can be difficult to redeem a gift card or receive a refund from its purchase, if a business closes down. Consider checking with competitors or back with the retailer periodically, as they be able to redeem, at a later date.
Despite the issues found with gift cards, sales are still expected to increase this year. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, 62 percent of consumers are planning to buy gift cards this holiday season.
For more information on U.S. regulations of gift cards: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt010.pdf
For more information on Canadian regulations of gift cards: www.retailcouncil.org/advocacy/national/cards/GiftCardLegislation-Canada.pdf
For more tips you can trust, visit www.evansville.bbb.org.