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BBB Offers Tips For Buying Gift Cards
December 17, 2013
BBB advises shoppers to examine gift cards carefully to be sure they haven't been tampered with and to read the fine print to determine any fees or expiration dates.

gift cardIf you don’t know what someone would like or it’s too late to ship a gift, you might be looking at gift cards as a perfect, one-size-fits-all gift. Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to check the fine print on gift cards and make sure security seals are intact before buying them for holiday gifts.

Gift cards may seem like a good alternative to buying and shipping presents, but it pays to read the fine print before you buy one. BBB advises that you may be better off giving cash or a check instead of plastic.

Gift card sales have topped $100 billion in recent years, as widely scattered families and friends see them as an attractive way to remember loved ones over the holidays while avoiding the hassle of finding the right size or saving on shipping costs. However, more than $2 billion in gift cards went unused last year.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which took effect in 2010, provides some protections to consumers who receive gift cards, such as requiring that card balances remain valid for five years after issuance or after they were last loaded with money. Fees and expiration dates may still apply, however, balance inquiries and fees can erode the value of the cards.

Some online retailers offer gift cards that can be delivered directly to the recipient. BBB encourages consumers to be sure that the website where they buy gift cards is secure and check for any limits on how the cards may be redeemed. A secure website will display “https://” in the website address of the pages where a shopper enters payment information.

If the website displays a BBB Accredited Business seal, click on the seal to confirm that it is authentic. A valid seal will link to the firm’s BBB Business Review.

More BBB tips on buying gift cards:

  • Be cautious about buying gift cards from online auctions because it is virtually impossible to tell whether the cards have any value remaining, to determine whether they’ve been tampered with or to see if they’ve expired. 
  • When buying gift cards in a store, check the packaging and any security seals to be sure they are intact and haven’t been tampered with.
  • Check the fine print to see if there are fees associated with the card. Some typical fees could include transaction fees or inactivity fees. In some cases, an organization may charge a service fee to issue the card.
  • See if the card has an expiration date. In some cases, the plastic card may expire before the five-year redemption period. Are there fees to obtain a new card?
  • Check the terms and conditions on a gift card. If you are giving a card to a friend who wants to shop online, make sure the card can be used that way and not just in a store.
  • Consider the financial condition of the retailer or bank issuing the card. If you think the store may be on shaky footing, you may want to pass on buying a card.

Consumers can learn how to protect themselves or find BBB Business Reviews and Charity Reviews by calling (330) 253-4590 or by going online to www.bbb.org.