Chief: Be Gift Card Savvy
To help everyone understand their rights when it comes to gift cards and gift certificates, the Grafton Police Department is providing information from the Attorney General.
Can you tell me what the rules and restrictions are regarding gift certificates and gift cards?
Many individuals will receive gift certificates or gift cards as a present during this holiday season. The rules for use of these cards are modified periodically to protect the consumer from fraudulent practices related to the purchase or usage of these items. To help everyone understand their rights when it comes to gift cards and gift certificates, the Grafton Police Department would like to once again provide the following information offered by the Office of the Attorney General. More information may be found at www.mass.gov/ago.
* Inspect gift cards before buying. Verify that none of the protective stickers have been removed. Also make certain that the codes on the back of the card have not been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. Report tampered cards to the store selling the cards.
* Read all accompanying literature that comes with the card or visit the website of the company you are purchasing the card from to ensure that you know what you are getting. Be sure to provide all of this information to the person to whom you are giving a gift card or gift certificate
* Gift cards may look like credit or debit cards, but they are not. Even if a gift card carries a Visa or MasterCard logo, the card is not a credit or debit card and does not automatically come with the same protections if it is lost or stolen.
Using the Card or Certificate
* Some gift cards or certificates can be used only at the retailer's store locations; others can be used at any retailer and online. Some large corporations own chains of different stores, and often their gift cards/certificates can be used at all chains (for example, Gap, Inc., sells gift cards that may be used to purchase merchandise from Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and Piperlime). Read the fine print and make sure you understand the terms and conditions before you buy.
* If you are the recipient of a gift card or certificate, make sure that you have the card's terms and conditions, the original purchase receipt, or the gift card's ID number. If they weren't given along with the card/certificate, ask for them from the person who gave you the gift, and then keep them in a safe place.
Expiration Dates - Massachusetts Gift Certificate Law
* Under Massachusetts law, a gift certificate or a merchant credit slip (given for returned merchandise) must be redeemable for a minimum of seven years from its date of issuance ( M.G.L. c. 93, s. 14S). The seller must clearly indicate the date of issuance and expiration date on either the face of the certificate, or, if it is an electronic card with a banked dollar value, on the sales receipt, or by means of an Internet site or a toll-free number ( M.G.L. c. 200A, s. 5D ). If the expiration date is not made available by these means, the gift certificate/card is to be redeemable in perpetuity. This law is effective as of April 1, 2003. Gift certificates issued but not yet redeemed as of this date are also to be good for seven years from the date they were issued.
* Once a gift certificate has been redeemed for 90 percent of its value or more, the consumer may elect to receive the balance of the remaining value in cash. A purchaser or holder of a gift certificate which, by its terms, authorizes the purchaser or holder to add value, which has been redeemed in part, such that the value remaining is $5 or less, must make an election to receive the balance in cash or continue using the gift certificate. A gift certificate with a zero balance is void. (Note: The term "gift certificate" does not apply to pre-paid phone cards ( M.G.L. c. 255D, s. 1).
Gift Card Expiration
* Some gift cards have expiration dates; others let the user "reload" or add money to the balance on the card. Information about expiration dates and fees may appear on the card/certificate itself, on the accompanying sleeve or envelope, or on the issuer's website. If you don't see it, ask. If the information is separate from the gift, give it to the recipient with the gift to help protect the value of the card/certificate.
* State law does not apply to gift cards issued by a national bank, even though these cards may be issued by an entity other than the bank. However, Federal law allows for fees to be assessed for a certificate or card if three conditions are met. For more information, view the Fees section of the website.
* If your card or certificate expires before you've had a chance to use it or exhaust its value, contact the issuer. Federal law now prohibits the sale or issuance of a gift card or certificate that has an expiration date of less than five years after the card or certificate is issued or funds were last loaded. If the card has expired and the funds are still valid, you may request a replacement card or certificate.
* For example, if you have a reloadable gift card that has an expiration date but you have loaded new funds on it before the card expires, you may request a new card with no fee imposed.
* Some issuers have stopped charging inactivity fees or imposing expiration dates, so it pays to check with the issuer to make sure you've got the most up-to-date information.
Anyone with questions for the Chief’s Column may submit them by mail to the Grafton Police Department, 28 Providence Road, Grafton, MA 01519. You may also email your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include an appropriate subject line, as I do not open suspicious email for obvious reasons.
Normand A. Crepeau, Jr.
Chief of Police