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Gift Cards

Buyer Beware When Purchasing Gift Cards

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Gift Cards
© 2012 Judy Hedding
Arizona's Attorney General is reminding consumers that many, but not all, gift cards have expiration dates and service fees.

Arizona law requires that any gift card subject to an expiration date or fee must have a printed disclosure visible to the consumer before purchase. However, while paper gift certificates must disclose the terms on the face of the certificate, plastic gift cards do not. The terms for a plastic card have to be disclosed either on accompanying printed materials or on a sign at the point of purchase.

Retailers selling gift cards over the Internet must disclose any fees or expiration dates to consumers before purchase. Sales representatives helping consumers purchase gift cards over the phone must disclose any fees or expiration dates before purchase. But if you buy a gift card in person, you need to look for the terms in writing or ask a sales representative what they are.

When shopping for gift cards, consumers should ask the following questions:

  • Is there a service charge? Some stores charge a fee to purchase the card.
  • Does the gift certificate or gift card expire? Some cards expire a year or less after purchase.
  • Is there a dormancy fee? These fees typically kick in if the card is not used within a set time period – usually between six months and a year. The fee may be as high as $2 per month and will accrue until the value of the card is exhausted.
  • Is there a maintenance fee? Like the dormancy fee, this charge applies if the card is used but not exhausted. Typically, the charges kick in every month after a set time when the balance is not used, deducting a low percentage of the remaining balance each month.
  • If the card is used for merchandise valued at less than the certificate's value, can you get any cash back? Often the answer is no.
  • If the gift card is store-specific, remember to ask if it can be used at other locations or for online purchases.
  • Make sure that the gift card you purchase comes in a sealed package where the numbers are not visible on the outside, or is obtained from the cashier from a supply of gift cards that have not been displayed. This will ensure that the card number hasn't been stolen prior to you purchasing the gift card.

There are gift cards available everywhere. Grocery stores, gift stores, appliance stores, restaurants, movies--chances are that if you can purchase it, you can get a gift card for it, too. Make sure you ask all the questions that you need to so that you understand what the restrictions are.

Although this warning didn't come from the Arizona Attorney General, I'll add another one. If you see an advertisement online for a free gift card, sometimes in amounts up to $500, for answering a survey or some other innocent sounding request, don't bother. If there are legitimate free gift cards out there, I've never seen one, and chances are you will thereafter be bombarded with email advertisements from vendors who obtain your personal information. That old adage, 'if it seems to good to be true, it is' comes into play here. Everyone would like a free $500 gift card for doing nothing, but it's not going to happen. Worse, you may end up inadvertently ordering products that you don't need or want, and you still won't get the gift card.

If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, please contact the Attorney General's Office at 602-542-5763 in Phoenix; 520-628-6504 in Tucson; or 1-800-352-8431 outside the metro areas. You can also file an online complaint.

Information included here was provided courtesy of the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

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