If you’re considering giving gift cards this holiday season, you’re not alone. According to National Retail Federation’s Annual November Holiday Consumer Survey, 59 percent of consumers will purchase gift cards or gift certificates this holiday season. Better Business Bureau serving Central East Texas (BBB) advises consumers to be gift card savvy before sticking a gift card under the tree.
Retail gift cards can only be used at specific businesses, while bank gift cards that function like cash can be used almost everywhere. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission put in place consumer protection measures stating money on a gift card can’t expire for a least five years. Inactivity fees can be charged only after a card hasn’t been used for at least one year and the expiration date must be clearly disclosed on the card along with any fees displayed on the card or its packaging.
“Gift cards are popular gifts,” said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB serving Central East Texas” Unfortunately, they are popular with scam artists as well, so it’s important to be careful when purchasing them.”
BBB offers the following tips to consider when buying them:
• Read the fine print. Search the card’s packaging and the card itself for any fees, expiration dates and terms and conditions. Some organizations charge service fees or will limit the gift card to “in store only” purchases, making it useless for online shopping. If you’re buying the card via phone or online, verify whether there will be any shipping and handling fees.
• Verify the seller of the gift card. It’s important to buy from sources you know and trust. Visit bbb.org to see a business’ BBB Business Review and find trustworthy BBB Accredited Businesses.
• Examine the card and packaging for tampering. It’s common for thieves to record a card’s PIN and put it back on the shelf. They wait for the card to be bought and then use it online, wiping the value before the customer has a chance to use it. The safest gift cards are those in a thick plastic casing. Make sure the packaging hasn’t been tampered with and check the back of the card to make sure the PIN number hasn’t been exposed and no protective stickers have been removed.
• Protect the recipient. Keep the receipt and give it to the recipient. If a card is stolen, a replacement might be issued if you have the receipt. If possible, register the gift card on the store’s website. This can help you find out about any card misuse and protect the card’s balance in case it’s stolen or lost.
• Know the law. In Texas, a law went into effect in 2015 allowing Texans to receive a cash refund on gift cards or gift certificates that have a balance less than $2.50. However, it does not apply for prepaid calling cards, loyalty cards or reward programs, gift cards issued as a refund for returned merchandise, cards issued by a bank or airline and cards worth $5 that can’t have value added to them.
• Don’t give out personal information. No trustworthy company will ever ask for social security number, driver’s license or date of birth when purchasing a gift card. Consider it a red flag if you’re asked for the information listed.
For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call BBB at 903-581-5704 or use BBB ScamTracker