Monday, September 13, 2010

Gift Cards - Gifts to the Card Issuer!

Suppose you want to buy something.  You hand the correct amount of money over to the seller and you take your item.
Suppose you but something on an installment plan.  You hand a portion of the required amount of money and the item is held for you until your final payment.
Now suppose you buy a gift for someone you like.  You pay for the item and take it and wrap it and watch the happy, hopefully recipient open the package.
Finally suppose the gift you bought for your friend was a gift card.  You pay for the item and the store behind the card gets the money immediately but still has the item or items in stock.  The store has lost nothing but they get to keep your money until your gift is redeemed.
In this last scenario it appears to be a rare win-win-win situation.  Unfortunately appearances can be deceiving.
For a long time companies were selling gift cards with varying amounts encoded into them and quietly waiting for the hidden fees to take over.  These fees could range from a dollar charge for inactivity to a full loss of value due to an arbitrary expiration date.
When was the last time you noticed an expiration date on cash?  Oh yeah, Confederate money after the Civil War!
Enter the U S Government, or at least most of the Democratic side thereof.
The fraudulent practices of the gift card issuing companies were scrutinized and regulations proposed to stem the tide and protect the consumer.
Naturally the companies cried ‘Caveat Emptor’ and said if the customer is too stupid to read the fine print, F ’em.
The rules started to go into effect last month.  Unfortunately a couple of provisions were held off until the end of January next year as the gift card industry claimed they didn’t have enough time to make sure implementation could be done in a fair and inclusive manner.  One must assume they added, “wink – wink – say no more, say no more” after that last statement.
One of the delayed protections is the requirement that all cards have the small print right on the card that clearly states any fees and expiration dates.  These warnings will alert the consumer to potential loss of value and allow them to use the money the company has been quietly sitting with and collecting interest on for way too long.
Small sample of the
prolific gift cards
available for you
Of course now that some of the seedy ways these companies have made money on the public’s stupidity have been stopped they are hard at work devising more fees and rules in an effort to regain the loss.
There is no way to stop the gift card industry from proliferating as businesses are now issuing them in lieu of cash rebates.  But in this case it is truly caveat emptor as these cards are not covered by consumer protection laws.
So what’s a person to do?
How can you get around this latest attempt to silently defraud you?
The solution is simple but most people don’t wish to hear it or follow it for that matter.
Just say no!
Don’t buy a gift card!
I realize how easy it is to hand over a piece of plastic and put the onus of buying a physical gift on the receiver but you must understand that you are also causing stress and your gift may end up a far lesser value than intended.
If you really like the person you are buying something for get the gift at a store in which you know they shop.  Then in the off chance they don’t like it or need it they can return it at a later date.
The actual item purchased will show you gave some thought to your gift and they will sincerely thank you for thinking of them.
Of course if you really don’t like them…

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