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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > January 2015 > Make the Most of Your Holiday Gift Cards

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Make the Most of Your Holiday Gift Cards

Now that the holiday season is over, many consumers are likely excited to redeem their gift cards. But before making any purchasing decisions, consumers should know their gift card rights and beware of common gift card scams.
Gift cards are protected under both state and federal law.  Under Ohio law, gift cards in any form — electronic, paper, or otherwise — generally cannot expire for at least two years.  Under federal law, gift cards issued in electronic format for a specific amount cannot expire for a minimum of five years. 
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.  Around the holidays, many businesses offer deals, such as “Buy a $100 gift card, get a $20 gift card free.”  While the $100 gift card would have all the protections the law offers, the $20 gift card would not be subject to the expiration periods and could expire at any time. Make sure to check the dates closely on any bonus cards!
Sometimes, gift cards also can become the subject of scams.  For example, a consumer may come across a legitimate-looking website advertising better deals than other stores’ websites. However, at the checkout page, the website requests a gift card number (not associated with the company), rather than a credit or debit card. Beware! Scammers may create phony websites — complete with fictitious customer reviews — to trick unsuspecting consumers into revealing redeemable gift card information. Unfortunately, once the information is provided, any money loaded on the card will be lost.
Consumers also should beware of text messages or emails from fake companies that prompt consumers to click on links in order to claim “free” gift cards. These scams are designed to trick consumers into clicking on malicious links, which could automatically install a virus onto the consumer’s device.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine offers the following tips for avoiding gift card scams:
  • Don’t purchase items from a website using gift cards that are not associated with that specific company.
  • Ensure that a website address reads “https” — rather than “http” — before entering any personal information. The “s” indicates that the website is secure.
  • Be skeptical of any text message, email, postcard, or letter stating that you have won a “free gift card.” If you receive such a message, contact the retail store using information listed from a reliable source, not the message itself, and report the potential scam. Know that in Ohio, consumers should not have to pay a fee for something that is “free.” Also, any legitimate prizes require no purchase.
  • Never respond directly to suspicious messages in any way. By contacting the “company,” you are verifying that your phone number, email address, or mailing address is valid and you may be revealing other personal information.
If you suspect a scam or an unfair business practice, report it to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.