Holiday shopping warning issued for gift card givers

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 8:15pm
Staff reports

A search for the perfect gift leads many holiday shoppers to buy gift cards for those hard-to-please folks at the bottom of the Christmas list. After all, gift cards and gift certificates are convenient to buy and offer little Johnny the chance to get whatever Santa forgot.

But the Tennessee Attorney General warns consumers to watch out for restrictions, expiration dates on rebates, gift cards and gift certificates.

Attorney General Bob Cooper and Division of Consumer Affairs Director Mary Clement remind consumers to pay close attention to restrictions and expiration dates when buying gift cards or items that promise rebates.

Mail-in rebates usually entail some work on the buyer’s part. Most rebate programs have specific deadlines and require receipts, UPC codes or other packaging parts to be mailed in along with the rebate form.

Consumer groups such as the Better Business Bureau report that most consumers take advantage of the rebates but an estimated 20 percent never receive their rebates.

“That’s money and time wasted if you don’t pay attention to the details or don’t follow through to see why the company never mailed the rebate,” Cooper said. “A little research can go a long way toward collecting what you’re due.”

Regarding gift cards or gift certificates, be sure to:

  • Buy from reputable sources rather than online auction sites as they could be counterfeit.
  • Consider the financial condition of the business, including how long it has been in your area, and whether it has ever filed for bankruptcy to avoid being stuck with a worthless card.
  • Ask about expiration dates before you buy a card so you may alert the recipient.
  • Ask whether there are any “hidden” fees such as activation, maintenance or transaction fees and whether those will be taken from deducted from the card.
  • Give the recipient the receipt when you give them the card in case it is lost or stolen.
  • Inspect the card to ensure it has not been tampered with or damaged before you leave the store.
  • Consider purchasing the gift cards or gift certificates with a credit card so you will have charge back protections if the store vanishes right after the holidays and before the recipient can redeem it.
  • If you receive a gift card as a gift, read the terms and conditions when you get the card and check for an expiration date or any fees.

“We encourage any consumer who feels they have had a problem with any business relating to a gift card, gift certificate or rebate to file a complaint with our office,” Clement said. “Consumers may call the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-342-8385 or (615) 741-4737 or online at”

Tennessee also has a gift certificate law which prohibits gift certificates being issued with an expiration date of less than 2 years with a few exceptions. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-126. Consumers should report companies they believe to be in violation of the state law to the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs.