Are You Getting Carded?
Gift cards have become wildly popular in the last decade, but there are some important pitfalls to be aware of.
I’ll bet, dollars to doughnuts, that you have a gift card in your wallet right now.
They’ve become extremely popular gifts because they’re easy to purchase, they’re small and portable, and they allow the recipient the flexibility of choice.
In 2010 the Federal Reserve set forth rules for gift cards, requiring in most cases, that they carry expiration dates no shorter than five years. They are also typically restricted from losing their value due to fees, and must clearly express terms and conditions.
The problem with gift cards, however, is they’re easy to lose, and they may still have expiration dates. But there is good news: Even after a gift card has expired, the value isn’t necessarily lost.
According to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection, many businesses may still honor an expired gift card. If you have an expired gift card, first contact the merchant to discuss your options.
Even if the business will not accept the expired gift card, all is not lost! Under Pennsylvania law, businesses must report unredeemed gift card value to the state treasury two years after the gift card’s expiration date. In cases where the gift card has service fees but no expiration date, a business must report the value five years after the date the card was issued.
If you have an expired gift card, don’t throw it away. Search the PA Treasury’s Unclaimed Property database or call 1-800-222-2046. The Treasury is currently seeking the rightful owners of more than $8 million in unredeemed gift card proceeds. Click here for more information on claiming expired gift card value.
Another unfortunate downside to gift cards is the ease with which thieves can steal gift card balances, for example, by writing down the numbers of gift cards on display at stores, then calling to check the balance until the card is activated.
Protect yourself against gift card fraud and value theft by:
- Purchasing only gift cards with scratch-off material covering the card number or PIN, or that hides gift card information in a protective sleeve.
- Have the cashier check the balance right away after you’ve purchased it.
- Keep the receipt for proof of purchase. Make a copy of the back of the gift card to keep track of the security information and customer service contact, and keep both somewhere safe.
To get the most out of your gift cards, read the fine print, and understand the merchant’s terms and conditions before purchasing or using a gift card. You should also register your gift card online, where possible. This way you can check your balance easily, and request a replacement if your gift card is lost.