Aaaahhh gift cards. They seem like the perfect one-size-fits-all gift. You can find them in any color, for any amount and for almost anything. As the shopping season enters its final weeks, the Better Business Bureau advises consumers to beware of some problems that persist including upfront fees and broken security seals.Before you stock up on last minute gift cards it’s important to know that while the CARD Act offers more consumer protections - some cards can still sting.
“Gift cards make excellent presents if you shop carefully,” said Warren Clark, Better Business Bureau President. “Like many holiday purchases the sticky points are found in the details since gift cards can still have hidden fees and strings attached. It’s important to read the fine print before buying and giving.”
· Card balances now remain valid for five years after issued or after they were last loaded with cash value. Prior to the CARD Act they expired or fees stacked up after 12 months.
· Many gift cards have a golden phrase “No fees after purchase” on their label, which means there are no service fees to activate or check balances on the card. BBB recommends consumers look for these types of cards to get the most bang for their buck.
· Inactivity fees have been restricted unless the card has been inactive for at least 12 months.
- Fees to purchase or activate can be an extra expense tacked on at the time of purchasing the gift card. These fees typically appear on bank gift cards which carry logos of a payment card network such as American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa, but can be used wherever the brand is accepted.
- Retail gift cards, sold by individual retailers and restaurants, can only be used with those merchants. Before you buy one BBB recommends you are certain the gift receiver will enjoy that specific retailer.
- If the card is scratched or damaged it is virtually useless. To be certain your card will carry its full value purchase cards that have no value until the store clerk loads on your amount. Verify the protective stickers have not been removed and that the unique PIN number located on the back of the card is not exposed. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.
- Crooks have been known to steal PIN numbers from gifts cards making them worthless.BBB recommends consumers check packaging to make certain it has not been tampered with and avoid buying gift cards that have pre-loaded cash values.
· Retail experts estimate American households have an average of $300 in unredeemed gift cards lying around so this perfect gift often becomes a forgotten treasure. Lost or forgotten gift cards represent a nice gift back to the retail industry each year amounting to billions of unspent cash. Some experts estimate over 2 billion goes back to their bottom line. Ouch! BBB recommends gift card givers remind their recipients to use their gift cards quickly before the memory of unwrapping one fades away.
If you have a problem with a gift card, BBB advises consumers to first contact the company that issued the card. If you can't resolve the problem at that level, you can file a complaint with BBB or the following authorities:
- For cards issued by national banks, contact the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC) Customer Assistance Group by calling 800-613-6743 or sending an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The OCC charters, regulates, and supervises national banks.
- For cards issued by retailers, contact the Federal Trade Commission or call toll free: 1-877-FTC-HELP.