December 20, 2013

Choose gift cards carefully

NEW YORK — Gift cards are a hassle-free present, but it’s crucial to be an informed shopper when it comes to picking them out.

“When purchasing a gift card, it is important to choose the right one for the recipient,” Paula Fleming of the Better Business Bureau said in a news release. 

“Consumers need to understand the type of gift card they are purchasing, as well as the fine print and policies associated with it.”

This year, it is expected shoppers will spend about $29.8 billion on gift cards, the National Retail Federation says, with cards for gas stations, department stores and restaurants being the top choices.

Here are some Better Business Bureau tips for gift-card purchase:

▶ Inspect the card before buying it. Make sure no protective stickers have been removed and that the codes on the back haven’t been scratched off to show the PIN number.

Report any damaged cards to the store.

▶ Understand the different kinds of gift cards — retail cards can be used only at the retailers and restaurants on the card; and bank gift cards, with a logo such as American Express, MasterCard or Visa, can be used wherever that brand is accepted.

▶ Buy cards from a known and trusted source. You can check out a business at Avoid online auction sites, as the cards sold there could be counterfeit or stolen.

▶ Read the fine print before buying to see if there is a fee to purchase the card or if there are shipping and handling fees for cards bought by phone or online. Also, check to see if any fees will be deducted from the card after it is purchased.

▶ Give the recipient of the gift card the original cash-register receipt, in case it is lost or stolen. Also, before choosing a gift card, consider the financial state of the retailer or restaurant. Your card could end up valueless if the restaurant or store files for bankruptcy or goes out of business.

▶  Report lost or stolen cards to the issuer immediately. Some will not replace them, but others, for a fee, will do so.

Use gift cards as soon as possible — it’s not unusual to lose or forget about them.

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