As the holiday buying season approaches, many shoppers are starting early, and looking to save money on gas and time by buying gift cards as presents. Connecticut Better Business Bureau, however, cautions consumers that it is essential to do their research before purchasing one.
Connecticut BBB President, Paulette Scarpetti, emphasizes that while gift cards are convenient, not all of them are created equal.
"While the majority of vendors are honest, there is a degree of risk associated with buying gift cards from some online sites and over-the-counter displays at convenience stores and gas stations."
Since January, Better Business Bureau has received more than 440 complaints against the gift card industry, a huge increase from the 33 complaints received in 2010. In some cases, consumers are disgruntled because they received an expired gift card that was loaded with cash, but wasn't usable until the expiration date was corrected. After sending their expired cards for replacement, updated cards were never returned, leaving the recipients empty-handed. Connecticut’
BBB recommends the following tips for both gift card givers and recipients:
Know your rights - Federal rules that took effect in August of 2010 are designed to protect consumers by restricting fees and changing conditions regarding gift card expiration dates. These new rules apply to two types of cards: retail gift cards, which can only be redeemed at retailers and restaurants that sell them, and bank gift cards, which carry the logo of a payment card network like American Express, Visa, or MasterCard and may be used wherever those brands are accepted. More information on the new rules is available from the Federal Reserve website at http://www.federalreserve.gov/
Check it out- Make sure you are buying from a known and trusted source. Always check out a business at http://www.bbb.org. Avoid online auction sites that promise ‘full value guaranteed' gift cards. Some sites of this type have been reported to sell cards that are valueless, counterfeit, expired or obtained fraudulently.
Inspect the packaging and the card - Be on the lookout for gift cards that appear to have been removed from their packaging, approaching their expiration date or already are expired. Verify that no protective stickers have been removed and that the protective layer on the back of the card hasn't been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. Report any damaged cards on display to the seller.
Read the fine print before buying - Is there a fee to buy the card? Are there shipping and handling fees for cards bought by phone or online? Will any fees be deducted from the card after it is purchased?
Provide the recipient with back up - Give the recipient the original receipt in case the card is later lost or stolen. Also, before you buy retail gift cards, consider the financial situation of the retailer or restaurant. A card from a business that files for bankruptcy or goes out of business may be worthless. If the business closes a store near the recipient, it may be hard to find another location where the card can be used. A business that files for bankruptcy may honor its gift cards, or a competitor may accept the card. In such a case, call the business or its competitor to find out if they are redeeming the cards, or will do so at a later date.
Treat the gift card like cash - For recipients, it's important to immediately report lost or stolen cards to the issuer. Some issuers may not replace them, while others will, for a fee. Make sure to use gift cards as soon as possible; it's not unusual to misplace or forget about them.
To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit http://www.bbb.org.
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Founded in 1928, Connecticut BBB is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. For more advice on finding companies and businesses, start your search with trust at www.bbb.org.