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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > December 2020 > What To Know About Giving Gift Cards

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What To Know About Giving Gift Cards

Gift cards are popular holiday presents, especially for last-minute shoppers and for recipients who don’t have a wish list. Not all gift cards are alike, though. It’s important to know some basics about them – from variable expiration dates to signs of potential scams – before you make such purchases.
Gift cards are protected under both state and federal law. Under Ohio law, gift cards in any form — electronic, paper, etc. — generally cannot expire for at least two years. Under federal law, gift cards issued in electronic format for a specific amount cannot expire for at least five years. Pay attention to a card’s expiration date, especially if you are buying a gift card from a re-seller.
If a gift card has no expiration date, it is generally valid until redeemed or replaced with a new card. Still, it is often best to use a gift card as quickly as possible – to reduce the chance that it will be lost or stolen or that the business will close before you’ve used the card.
There are a number of exceptions related to gift card laws. For example, gift cards purchased for a specific service, such as a gift card for one manicure (as opposed to a specific dollar amount to a nail salon), are not protected under federal law. Additionally, “bonus” cards are not protected under state or federal law. During the holiday season, 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 – and it could expire at any time. Closely verify the expiration dates and other restrictions of any bonus cards.
Keep in mind that a reloadable gift card that can be used almost anywhere may reduce in value faster than a single-store gift card and is not required to have an expiration date in excess of two years from the date of purchase. Such cards may also impose a fee when the card is more than 2 years old and inactive for 12 months.
Gift cards are also frequently used in scams. For example, you may come across a legitimate-looking website advertising better deals than stores’ websites, but, at the checkout page, the website requests the number to a gift card (not associated with the company) instead of  a credit or debit card. Beware! Scammers may create phony websites — complete with made-up customer reviews — to trick people into revealing redeemable gift card information. Unfortunately, once the information is provided, any money loaded on the card will be lost.
Similarly, a con artist may call you, claiming that you’re in trouble with the IRS or that someone you love needs help, and ask you to pay immediately using a gift card. This is a common sign of a scam. Once you provide the gift card information, even just by reading the gift card numbers over the phone, the con artists can drain the funds.
When you buy gift cards in a store, be sure that any PINs – generally located on the back of gift cards – are not already scratched off. Some scammers go into stores, scratch off and record PINs, and put the gift cards back on the shelf. Then they regularly check to see whether a consumer has purchased (or put any funds on) the card. The scammer then drains the card before you’ve had the chance to give or use the gift card.
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.