Most of the people on your gift list want the same thing for Christmas, but it comes with a buyer-beware warning from the Better Business Bureau.
"At one time giving gift cards seemed as thoughtless as giving cash," said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois, in a statement. "But today, from the giver and the recipient's point of view, they are quick, convenient and preferred. Plus, they are generally safe if precautions are taken."
If you plan to give one as a gift, the Better Business Bureau urges you to read the card's fine print first and understand how it works. There might be fees associated with buying or using the card.
Look at the card before buying it, the BBB warns, checking it to make sure the protective stickers have not been removed and the PIN number on the back isn't exposed. Alert the store to compromised cards.
Also make sure to give a gift receipt in case the card is lost or stolen or there is a discrepancy with the balance.
If you're on the receiving end this holiday, the BBB says you should read the card for any conditions like an expiration date or fees.
"Check the date," the BBB says. "If it appears that the value of your card has expired, or that fees have been deducted, contact the company that issued the card. They may still honor the card or reverse the fees."
Use the card before there's a risk of losing it and treat it like cash.
"If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately," according to the BBB. "You may not recover any of the value that was on the card. Some issuers will not replace cards that are lost or stolen, but other issuers may, for a fee. You may need to show proof of purchase and the ID number on the card. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers you can call to report a lost or stolen card."
Gift card complaints can be filed with the Better Business Bureau or the Illinois Attorney General's Office. For cards issued by retailers, contact the Federal Trade Commission or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP.
For cards issued by national banks, contact the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC) Customer Assistance Group by calling 800-613-6743 or sending an e-mail to: email@example.com.