Gift cards are convenient and versatile, but there are potential issues to be aware of before you buy.
Types of Gift Cards
There are two types of gift cards:
- Retail gift cards – operate like gift certificates and are only redeemable at the retailer they are associated with.
- General use prepaid cards – carry the logo of a credit card issuer such as Visa or MasterCard and can be used wherever the brand is accepted.
Gift cards do not include prepaid calling cards or cellphone minutes.
Tips for Purchasing Gift Cards Safely
- Verify before you buy.
- Gift cards often come with a concealed personal identification number (PIN). When buying a gift card, make sure the coating over the card’s PIN has not been scratched off. Have the cashier verify the card balance before you pay.
- Protect your purchase.
- Get a receipt, register the card and check the balance to make sure no unauthorized purchases are made. Report suspicious purchases to the retailer or issuer as soon as possible.
- Be careful online.
- Auction websites may offer gift cards, often for a lot less than face value. While these seem like a good deal, there have been many reported instances of fake or fraudulent gift cards sold on these sites.
- Check for expiration dates.
- Unless they were sold at a discount, gift cards cannot have an expiration date. If the gift card was sold at a discount, the card may state an expiration date, but it must be at least 30 days after it was sold.
- Be aware of the retailer’s financial status.
- If a merchant declares bankruptcy or closes a local store before a gift card is used, it may render the card useless regardless of the expiration date.
- Get your money’s worth.
- State law makes it illegal to use inactivity, maintenance, service or other fees to reduce the value of a card. As of January 1, 2012, Oregonians are allowed to redeem most gift cards with a balance of $5 or less for cash. Note: The law has exceptions for promotional cards, cards from phone companies and online gift cards.
Learn More from the Federal Trade Commission
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