BBB offers gift card buying tips

Gift cards make excellent presents, especially during the holidays when shoppers are unsure of what to buy for a family members or friends.  But like everything else, gift cards may have hidden fees and strings attached.  The BBB reminds consumers it’s important to read the fine print before making a purchase and presenting gift cards to co-workers, friends or loved ones.

In recent years, both the United States and Canada have made changes in federal laws to improve consumers’ chances of getting full value out of the cards they buy and give. These rules generally apply to gift certificates, store gift cards and general use prepaid cards, which are often branded by payment networks such as Visa or MasterCard.

Despite some historical issues with gift cards – such as cards getting lost or people receiving cards that have their value siphoned off by scammers – sales of gift cards are still expected to increase this year. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, 62 percent of consumers are planning to buy gift cards this holiday season.

Here are some helpful tips from BBB regarding gift card purchases:

•Buy from trusted sources. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites, because the cards may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.

•Read the fine print before a purchase is made. Is there a fee to buy the card? Those who buy a card by phone or online should ask about shipping fees.

•See whether any fees will be deducted from the card after it is purchased.

•Inspect the card before it is bought. Verify none of the protective stickers have been removed. Make sure the codes on the back of the card haven’t been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.

•Give the recipient the original receipt so her or she can verify the card’s purchase in case it is lost or stolen.

•Consider the financial condition of the retailer or restaurant.

•Know the rules: Visit .ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt010.pdf for more information on gift cards.

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