Gift Card Warnings

It may be just a small piece of plastic, but a gift card can be anything you want it to be at the register.

For a shopper, the convenience of stocking up on these cards is about as easy as it gets for buying gifts. But despite this simplicity, there are some potential "gotchas" that need to be considered when purchasing cards for friends and loved ones or when using a card you have received. The Wisconsin Department of Ag, Trade & Consumer Protection asks both card buyers and recipients to take steps to ensure that everyone gets the full value of the gift. Frank Frassetto, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection, said that the best guidance is for shoppers to read the fine print at the time of purchase and for recipients to use the card fairly quickly when received as a gift.

When buying a gift card it's important to inspect the packaging before you purchase a card to ensure that no protective stickers have been removed and that the pin number has not been exposed. Report any damaged cards to store management. Also, read the fine print on the card to ensure that you understand any rules on usage and associated fees. Finally, always give an activation receipt with the card to verify its value and the date of purchase.

If your loved ones or friends shop on-line, consider giving them electronic gift cards by e-mail rather than physical cards. Many retailers offer this gifting option and the messages can often be customized with personal messages or images. These cards can be saved in an e-mail account for future use without fear of losing or damaging a physical card.

If you receive a gift card this holiday season, use it as quickly as possible. In the event a store goes out of business, your card could be rendered useless. Also, unused cards may be subject to inactivity fees, draining the value of the gift. By federal law, dormancy and service fees are allowed if the recipient has failed to use the card for more than one year. Finally, keep your cards safe. Make a copy of the front and back of the card and keep it with the original receipt. Contact the issuer immediately if you lose a card or if it is stolen, but be aware that you may not be able to replace it. Some issuers may replace the card for a fee. Additional information about general rules and regulations for gift cards can be found on the Wisconsin DATCP website.