Better Business Bureau

Gift cards can be a convenient gift-giving solution when it gets down to the wire or if the recipient lives far away. Before you buy, Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to check the fine print and fees on gift cards and make sure security seals are intact.

“Gift cards can be the perfect solution for the person who’s hard to please or a relative who lives in another city,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO. “But buying cards with too many fees or conditions can erode a card’s value. You may be better off giving cash or a check instead of plastic.”

More people see gift cards as an attractive way to remember loved ones while avoiding the hassle of finding the right size or saving on shipping. According to the National Retail Federation, gift cards are the most popular items on wish lists as nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in a 2019 poll said they would request gift cards.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act provides some protections to consumers who receive gift cards, such as requiring that card balances remain valid for five years after issuance or after they were last loaded with money. Fees and expiration dates may still apply, however, and fees can erode the value of the cards.

BBB receives hundreds of complaints about gift card purchases every year, and 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.

BBB encourages consumers to be sure that the websites where they buy gift cards are secure. A secure website will use “https://” in the website address of the pages where a shopper enters payment information.

If a business displays the BBB Accredited Business seal, click on the seal to confirm that it is authentic. A valid seal will link to the firm’s BBB Business Profile.

More BBB tips on buying gift cards:

  • Be cautious about buying gift cards from online auctions because it is virtually impossible to tell whether the cards have any value remaining, to determine whether they’ve been tampered with or to see if they’ve expired.
  • When buying gift cards in a store, check the packaging and any security seals to be sure they are intact and haven’t been broken.
  • Check the fine print to see if there are fees associated with the card. Some typical fees could include transaction fees or inactivity fees. In some cases, an organization may charge a service fee to issue the card or a replacement card.
  • See if the card has an expiration date. In some cases, the card may expire before the five-year redemption period. Are there fees to obtain 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 condition of the retailer. If you think the store may be on shaky footing, you may want to pass on buying a card.
  • Consumers can learn how to protect themselves or find BBB Business Profiles and BBB Charity Reviews by calling 888-996-3887 or by going online to bbb.org.

BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information.

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