What to know about giving gift cards

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Gift cards are popular presents during the holiday season, likely even more so this year during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is best to use a gift card as quickly as possible, even those with no expiration date. This will reduce the chance the card will be lost or stolen or that the business will close before you’ve used the card, the consumer advocate newsletter on the Ohio Attorney General’s Office website advises.

Gift cards are protected under state and federal law. In Ohio, gift cards in any form — electronic, paper, etc. — cannot expire for at least two years in most cases. Under federal law, gift cards issued in electronic form for a specific amount cannot expire for at least five years. Pay attention to a card’s expiration date, especially when buying a gift card from a reseller.

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There are exceptions related to gift card laws. For example, cards purchased for a specific service, such as one manicure instead of a dollar amount at a nail salon, are not protected under federal law.

In addition, bonus cards are not protected under state or federal law. For example, if a business offered a free $20 gift card with the purchase of a $100 gift card, only the $100 gift card would come with all the legal protections. Consumers should check expiration dates and other restrictions that apply to any bonus cards, according to the newsletter.

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Another thing to watch for is that the PIN — on the back of gift cards — is 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 someone purchased or put any funds on the card. The scammer drains the card before the consumer has the chance to use the gift card.

Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.

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