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Gift Card Fees & Fraud

November 27, 2012, 10:08 PM by Angela Kennecke

Gift Card Fees & Fraud

Gift cards are one of the hottest holiday items around; it's a $100 billion industry.  And thanks to the Credit Card Act of 2009, gift cards now cannot expire for least five years.  But that doesn't mean you can't get charged a number of fees with them. 

Gift cards are a quick and easy gift-giving solution.

"I think gift cards are a great way to go so they can get what they want," Janna Meyer said.

But one thing consumers don't like about gift cards are those pesky fees, like ones for every purchase or non-use charges.

"What are the terms on those if they don't use them right away?  Some people put them in their pockets or wallets and forget about them and all of a sudden, it's been a year.  Will that money still be on that card that I had purchased?" Meyer said.

"We're already paying for the card; why pay again?  We're always paying and paying and paying," Susan Butler said. recently evaluated 63 different cards and found those issued by credit card companies or banks were more likely to have fees than those issued by retailers. 

The Gift Card Consumer Protection Act was just introduced last week in Congress to do away with expiration dates and non-use fees.

"Expiration dates and service fees and decreasing balances; those things are going to be a thing of the past as we move forward here," Jessie Schmidt of the Better Business Bureau said.

But consumers must still be aware of gift card fraud.  One popular way thieves are stealing what you put on the card is by getting the numbers off the back while they are still on the rack.

"When you have those big racks of gift cards, people will take several cards.  They'll take their smart phone and snap a picture of backside of card that's got the number on it.  They call that number everyday to find out when that gift card has been loaded," Schmidt said.

And then they drain it online before your recipient ever has a chance to use it.  Some merchants are changing the packaging to try to prevent that problem.  Meanwhile, even with the best of intentions, some gift cards go unused.  Something retailers practically bank on.

"Merchants like them because 10 to 20 percent of them are never redeemed," Schmidt said.

If you receive a gift card, you know you'll never use, don't let it take up space in your wallet or a drawer.  You can sell it on exchange websites like plastic jungle.  It's also a way to buy cards at a discount.  Just do your research to make sure you're dealing with a reputable site.

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