Don’t be grifted by gift card fraud

December 19, 2012

Gift cards may take the guess work out of gift giving, but you sure don’t want to leave the recipient feeling bamboozled. Better Business Bureau and Consumer Protection BC would like to offer some smart shopping advice about gift cards.

A recent poll of over 1,150 consumers conducted by Consumer Protection BC shared that over 67% of British Columbians are planning on buying a gift card for someone this holiday season. While a gift card can make shopping easy, the cards may have hidden fees and strings attached. It’s important to read the fine print before buying and giving.

The gift card law in BC, which is enforced by Consumer Protection BC, states that most Gift cards and gift certificates (pre-paid purchase cards) issued or sold in British Columbia are not allowed to have expiry dates. There are exceptions. For example mall cards and gift certificates for a specific service can have expiry dates. Phone cards and pre-paid credit cards are not captured by the law.

Here are some helpful tips from BBB and Consumer Protection BC regarding gift card purchases:

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.

Read the fine print before you buy. Is there an expiry date and when is it? Can you get an extension if you contact the business? Is there a fee to buy the card or to activate it? 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.

See whether any fees will be deducted from the card after you purchase it. Do you have to pay if you lose the card or if you don’t use it by a certain date? Are there fees to phone the provider with a question?

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.

Give the recipient your original receipt so they can verify the card's purchase in case it is lost or stolen.

Consider the financial condition of the retailer or restaurant. Sometimes the supplier goes out of business and gift cards are not able to be redeemed.

Gift cards are still a popular choice this holiday season. Knowing what questions to ask and what the law says will help consumers make an informed choice when it comes to buying gift cards. For more information about the gift card law in BC, please visit: