YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio Attorney General David Yost wants to remind gift shoppers to take a little time when deciding what gift cards to buy. Not all come with the same terms.
State and federal law protect gift cards, but there are limitations.
Under Ohio law, gift cards in any form — electronic, plastic, paper, etc. — generally cannot expire for at least two years. Under federal law, gift cards issued in electronic form for a specific amount cannot expire for a minimum of five years. Pay attention to a card’s expiration date, especially if you plan to buy a gift card from a reseller.
If a gift card has no expiration date, it is generally valid until redeemed or replaced with a new card, but it’s often best to use it as quickly as possible to reduce the chances of it getting lost or stolen.
A gift card that is branded by a credit card company and can be used almost anywhere may reduce in value faster than a single-store gift card.
There are exceptions to gift card protections. For instance, gift cards for a specific service, such as a manicure (as opposed to a specified amount to a nail salon) – are not protected under federal law. Neither are “bonus” cards. Around the holidays, many businesses offer deals, such as “buy a $100 gift card, get a $20 gift card free.” Although the $100 gift card would have all the protections the law offers, the $20 gift card would not be subject to the protections and could expire at any time. Closely check the expiration dates and other restrictions of any bonus cards.
Also, gift cards are often a scammer’s payment of choice. We’ve all heard the stories about a caller telling someone to buy a certain dollar amount of gift cards as payments for some made-up emergency situation or fake websites that want you to use a gift card not affiliated with the company.
When buying gift cards in a store, make sure that their PINs, generally found on the back of cards, aren’t already scratched off or appear to have been tampered with. Some scammers go into stores, scratch off PINs, record the numbers, and put the cards back on the shelf. Then, they check to see whether a consumer has purchased (or put any funds on) one or more of the cards. If a card has money on it, scammers then attempt to drain it. Some scammers even replace the security film sticker – which can be bought in bulk – so the PIN does not appear to have been exposed. Look for signs that the security film has been replaced (i.e. if it has been applied crooked or has air bubbles).