What do I need to know about gift cards and gift certificates? Are there gift card scams? Is it safe to buy gift cards second hand?

Gift cards or gift certificates keep growing in popularity.  It is not unusual to receive one or more as a Wedding gift, Birthday gift, Christmas gift or Anniversary gift.  They are considered an alternative to giving cash.  Sometimes the gift cards/gift certificates are welcomed and other times not so much if that person doesn’t shop at that store, eat at that restaurant, use those spa services, etc.  But, what are the things you may want to know… about gift cards and gift certificates in general?

Expiry dates – Check the fine print for gift card/gift certificate expiry dates. Sometimes they can expire in one year and other times they may have no expiry date at all.

Use ASAP – Try to use the gift card/gift certificate as soon as possible. That way you don’t misplace it or throw it in some drawer only to find it after it has expired.  Plus, businesses change owners, business owners retire, go bankrupt, etc., so they may not be around to honor the gift card/gift certificate if you hold on to it for too long either.

Buying second hand – Meet the seller directly at the business the gift card/gift certificate is for.  This way you can verify the balance left on the card at the cashier or customer service desk and make sure the card is genuine.

Fakes – Looks like the real thing, but is a fake.  Fake gift cards/gift certificates have been sold door to door, second hand and directly on bogus company websites.  When you try to redeem the company doesn’t exist and/or there is no cash balance on the gift card.

Internet scams – Includes selling fake gift cards, selling used gift cards with no cash balance left on them and phishing scams that send out letters randomly to millions of people telling them they have won a $500.00 gift card at major department store.  Unfortunately, a lot of these phishing scams were used on My Space, etc. and a lot of younger people gave these thieves their personal information for identity theft purposes thinking they actually won a contest.

In store scams– This can happen with gift cards that are on a display rack in the middle of a store away from the cash register or employees eyes.  Thieves can obtain the gift card serial number before it is even purchased.  Then they monitor the gift card serial number online and watch the balance.  By the time the person actually receives the gift card the balance may of already been depleted.

User fees – Some stores charge a user fee if a gift card/gift certificate has not been redeemed by a certain time period like one year, etc.  

Entire Malls – Gift cards/gift certificates for entire malls that are redeemable at many stores usually have expiry dates.  Even if your municipality has “no expiry” date laws on gift cards/gift certificates this usually only applies to “one” store only, not multiple stores.

Balance remaining – Gift cards/gift certificates are not redeemable for cash.  They can not be used to pay off your credit card balance with that particular store.  So, even if you have fifty cents left as a balance on your gift card you will have to use it towards another purchase. 

Sending by mail – When sending gift cards/gift certificates by mail request a signature and/or get the envelope/package insured.  Some express mail services automatically include $100.00 worth of insurance, so it may be cheaper to send it that way than insuring it through regular postal means.


Before purchasing a gift card/gift certificate make sure the receiver has that particular franchise/business in their neighborhood so they don’t have to drive a long distance to redeem the gift card/gift certificate you sent them.

Read the fine print for expiry dates, user fees, etc.

Do not purchase gift cards that look like they have been tampered with. 

Try to find out what businesses the receiver likes to shop at, what restaurants they like to eat at, what services they like to use, etc. Consider what their taste is before purchasing a gift card/gift certificate, where you eat, shop, etc. may not be their style/taste at all.

Some municipalities have gift card/gift certificate laws or are in the process of changing them.  You should be aware of these laws and make sure businesses are following them when your purchasing gift cards/gift certificates.

If you are receiving a lot of gift cards/gift certificates, cash by regular post consider a locked mail box to avoid possible mail theft.  (read more on mail/identity theft on an older thread I posted here)

(BC residents please read comments for further information on new laws coming into effect in November 1, 2008)


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. coconews
    Oct 20, 2008 @ 10:37:28

    BC residents starting November 1, 2008 new gift card laws go into effect. Gift cards will not be allowed to have expiry dates, user/handling fees, except in certain circumstances.


  2. coconews
    Oct 20, 2008 @ 10:41:36

    One time we received a gift certificate for a restaurant that was four hours away from us. Although we visit relatives in the area we barely had a chance to redeem it before it expired.

    Have a good or bad gift card experience?

    Please post your comments here.


  3. Heath
    Oct 21, 2008 @ 16:31:54

    My wife loves gift cards… Just remember if it’s American Express or Visa, spend the cash before they start charging you a monthly fee. I think you have a year or so before this starts to happen.

  4. Trackback: Websites tagged "gift" on Postsaver
  5. coconews
    Oct 29, 2008 @ 12:22:04

    Please read about the new gift card scams here:


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