By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
The holidays are upon us, the typical time for families and friends to gather to rekindle relationships and share traditions. However, as the events of the past year have taught us, 2020 is anything but typical or traditional, changing nearly every aspect of our lives. That includes how we celebrate the holidays in times of pandemic and social distancing.
The pandemic changed how Kansans shopped and prepared for the holidays when getting to the store was a challenge. In recent years, and certainly under the current circumstances, gift cards are a popular way for givers to make sure the recipient gets something he or she wants. If you unwrapped a gift card under your tree this year, now is your chance to choose your own perfect gift!
As you venture out to the stores or log on to your computer to spend that gift card, make sure you’re aware of the fine print that comes with your gift. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Under Kansas law, gift cards cannot expire for at least five years. If the gift card does not have an expiration date printed on the card, then it is good until you redeem it, no matter how long that is.
- Merchants can begin charging inactivity fees against the card’s balance 12 months after the card is issued. These fees are required to be printed on the card or the packaging it comes in.
- Pre-paid bank cards – the ones that are issued by a bank or credit card company, not by a specific store – can, and usually do, charge additional fees for purchasing the card, and on the balance.
- Be aware that even with legal protections in place, the value of a gift card may be lost if the store goes out of business before the card is used.
You should also remember to keep unused gift cards in a safe location. Treat them like cash. Unlike credit cards, if a gift card is lost or stolen, it can be difficult to prove the card belonged to you. Some retailers will allow you to register your card online, which protects the value of the card if something does happen.
If you happen to receive a card for a place you do not shop, it is unlikely that the retailer will let you exchange your card for cash. However, there are websites that allow you to sell or exchange your unwanted gift cards. Use caution when dealing with these online sites to be sure you don’t become a victim of fraud. You can also consider donating your unwanted gift cards to a local charity, especially cards for grocery, clothing or department stores.
For more consumer tips or to file a complaint, visit our consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org or give us a call at (800) 432-2310.