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Last Minute Holiday Shopping: Is That Gift Card a Good Idea?

The Better Business Bureau is warning that some gift cards may not be such a good, quick idea after all.

'Twas just hours before Christmas.

And, if you still have shopping to do, a gift card may just end up being what you buy someone. However, some of those cards are actually more trouble than they're worth -- literally.

The Better Business Bureau is advising consumers of what they should know before purchasing that all-too-convenient gift card.

Gift Card Tips

  1. Research, including using the Better Business Bureau, before you buy. Buy from a known and trusted source.  Avoid online auction sites because the cards sold there could be counterfeit or obtained fraudulently.
  2. Read the fine print. Know 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.
  3. Inspect the card before buying. 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.
  4. Provide receipt with gift card. Give the recipient of the gift card the original receipt in case the card is lost, stolen or there is a discrepancy with the balance.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which took effect in 2010, established standards that give consumers additional protections when using gift cards.

The standards prohibit retailers from setting expiration dates less than five years after the card is purchased and charging dormancy, inactivity, and service fees unless the card has not been used for at least 12 months.

If fees are charged after this period, the details of such fees must be clearly disclosed on the card.

These standards apply to store gift cards and general use prepaid cards, which are often branded by payment networks such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

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