Use your gift cards now

Millions of people received gift cards for Christmas. The National Retail Federation predicted they would be one of the top gifts this year.

Whether you received a store card, prepaid credit card or online certificate, BBB recommends you spend your money as soon as possible and check all the fine print.

Though federal law states that gift cards can’t expire within five years and limits what types of fees can be charged, those rules are limited. Some cards still carry high fees — especially prepaid credit cards that aren’t branded for a specific store.

In addition, scammers sometimes copy the numbers from gift cards while they are still on the shelf. Later, they call to check the balance and spend whatever is available. While you can sometimes get your money back after this type of fraud, it’s difficult to prove.

Here are a few tips for spending your gift cards:

  • Read the fine print. Fully understand how the card works, if there are any fees associated with buying or using the card and if any fees will be deducted from the card after it is purchased. Specific fees to look for are activation fees or fees charged to check your balance, call customer service or get a replacement card.
  • Inspect the card. Verify that protective stickers have not been removed and the PIN Number on the back of the card is not exposed. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.
  • Keep your receipts. Ask the person who gave you the card for the receipt from that purchase, and keep any receipts from subsequent purchases. Those will be your best defense in the case of fraud.
  • Spend your money as soon as possible. The longer you hold onto your card, the more likely you are to forget about it, accumulate fees or fall victim to fraud.