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Tips To Consider Before Buying a Holiday Gift Card

giftcard.jpgI’ll admit, I used to think gift cards were a godsend during the holidays. What to get for that hard to please uncle? A gift card to his favorite restaurant will do. After all, I love to get them, and I often give them to expectant friends along with a jumbo pack of diapers for a baby shower gift. The last thing a new mom wants to do is trek to the local baby superstore to exchange onesies, so letting them choose their own baby outfits out with a gift card always seemed like a safe bet to me.

Until now. More and more, companies that provide gift cards seem to be getting stricter on their rules, regulations, and fine print. Imagine my shock last year when I went to purchase two Visa gift cards from my local bank and was charged a hefty handling fee for each one. If it hadn’t been the day before Christmas and no back-up gifts in sight, I would have reconsidered my decision. Instead, I coughed up the money and purchased the cards anyway.

But I recently bought one for my mother-in-law at the last minute and noticed after I gave it to her that it had to be used within 30 days, or a portion of the balance would be automatically taken off the card until the entire amount was used. I hated having to explain that to her when I presented it to her, but I didn’t want her to try to use it after six months and find that it had no balance.

Now it seems that thieves have also discovered the joys of gift cards too. The Better Business Bureau is reporting that thieves write down numbers of unpurchased gift cards in stores, and then check online often to see when they have been bought and validated. Once the card is activated, they spend the balance within minutes.

Some stores are now taking extra precautions and having customers scratch off a number on the back of the card before they use it.

The Federal Trade Commission has some helpful tips to consider regarding gift cards on their website. Check them out to make sure you’re well informed when purchasing gift cards for your friends and loved ones this holiday season.

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