BBB offers advice on buying and using gift cards safely this Christmas

Gift cards are a popular holiday gift that is easy to give in retail stores or purchase online with just a few clicks.

Recipients love them too. Better Business Bureau recently reported that, according to the National Retail Federation, gift cards are the most important item on many wish lists, with nearly 60% of consumers polled in a 2019 poll saying they would ask. gift cards.

Gift cards also come with risk and can be exploited by fraudsters, the BBB said. From January to September 2021, nearly 40,000 people reported the theft of $ 148 million with gift cards, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The regional offices of the nonprofit oversight body warn that those who give and receive gift cards should check the small legal print that accompanies the card. Recipients of gift cards may have to pay unwanted charges over time.

You can find great deals on gift cards right before the holidays, but the Better Business Bureau has tips for using them safely.  Read the fine print before you buy and avoid theft by not reading the card number to anyone over the phone.

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Michelle L. Corey, President and CEO of BBB St. Louis, said “Buying cards with too many fees or conditions can erode a card’s value. You might be better off giving cash or a check instead of plastic. “

During this time, it is important to ensure that the security seals on physical gift cards are intact at the point of sale.

Once the cards are received by your friends and relatives, be sure to spend them on stores, websites or apps owned by legitimate retailers. BBB recently said that it receives hundreds of complaints about gift card purchases each year. Some consumers have reported problems with sites that sell gift cards online. Some online retailers offer gift cards that can be delivered directly to the recipient, avoiding unnecessary trips to the store during times of social distancing.

BBB encourages consumers to ensure that the websites they purchase gift cards from are secure. A secure website will use “https: //” in the website address of pages where a buyer enters payment information.

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Once a gift card is in hand, there are other risks.

“Anytime someone asks you to pay with a gift card, it should be a wake-up call,” said Stephanie Garland, regional director of the BBB in Springfield.

BBB receives numerous reports where crooks claim to be offering good deals by masquerading as Walmart, Target, and other big box stores.

“However, the catch is you have to read the numbers on the gift card to the person on the phone,” Garland explained.

This is not the way to use gift cards: As many consumers learn the hard way, after falling into the scam of reading the numbers, their gift card money is quickly spent by the scammer, often within minutes or hours.

“That’s why at many of these big box stores you’ll see warning signs printed behind customer service warning customers of different scams involving gift cards,” Garland explained.

In the United States, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act offers certain protections to consumers who receive gift cards, such as requiring that card balances remain valid for five years after they are issued or after their last charge. silver. But the law doesn’t completely prohibit fees or expiration dates.

More BBB advice on buying gift cards

  • Be careful when buying gift cards in online auctions, as it is virtually impossible to tell if the cards are still of value, if they have been tampered with, or if they have expired. A man from St. Louis told BBB in May 2020 that he purchased several discounted airline gift cards through a third-party gift card reseller, only to find the cards had no value and that the reseller would not refund their money.
  • When purchasing gift cards at a store, check the packaging and security seals to make sure they are intact and have not been broken.
  • Check the fine print to see if there are any fees associated with the card. Some typical fees may include transaction fees or inactivity fees. In some cases, an organization may charge a service fee to issue the card or a replacement card.
  • Check if the card has an expiration date. In some cases, the card may expire before the five-year redemption period. Are there any fees to get a new card?
  • Check the terms and conditions on a gift card. If you are giving a card to someone who wants to shop online, make sure it can be used that way and not just in a store.
  • Consider the financial situation of the retailer. If you think the store is on shaky ground, you might want to forgo buying a card.
  • Consumers can learn how to protect themselves or find BBB company profiles and BBB charity reviews by calling 888-996-3887 or going online at

Garland, with the BBB in Springfield, told the News-Leader that a consumer reported losing up to $ 14,500 this year. Other consumers reported losing $ 10,000 and $ 7,000.

“BBB doesn’t even want you to lose a dime on a scam,” Garland said. “Our advocacy with consumers is to think twice before paying with a gift card.”

Contact News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by sending an email to [email protected] Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.

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