As part of its seven-part consumer alert holiday series, the New York State Division of Consumer Protection recommends New Yorkers be informed consumers when purchasing gift cards and gift certificates this holiday season.
“Gift cards offer convenience to so many gift givers during the holidays,” said New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who oversees the Division. “Gift cards are also a great way for consumers to show support for their local businesses. If gift cards are on your holiday shopping list, be sure to know your rights when it comes to buying and spending them.”
New York State General Business Law §396-i, acceptance of unexpired gift certificates, protects consumers who buy and use gift cards. The law states that no gift card may expire earlier than five years from the date of purchase and requires businesses to prominently post the ‘Terms and Conditions’ that apply to their gift cards – including the procedure to replace a missing card.
Below are tips consumers should keep in mind when buying and using gift cards this holiday season:
* Check packaging. When buying a gift card, consumers should make sure the packaging and security seals are intact.
* Use caution with third parties. Consumers should use caution when buying gift cards from third parties or online auctions, as it is difficult to verify the dollar amount remaining.
* Review fine print. Consumers should always review the fine print and check for hidden fees or any restrictions on the use of the gift card. ‘Dormancy Fees’ for non-use cannot be imposed if the card is used within two years of the purchase date, and any such fees must be waived where the cardholder uses it within three years of the purchase date
* Don’t fall for scammers trying to get your gift card. Consumers should be particularly cautious about callers claiming to be from the government or utility company saying that an overdue bill or federal debt can be paid with a gift card. No one from the government, utility companies, or the police would ask for payment via gift card.
* Be prepared if a business is struggling or considering bankruptcy. If you hear a business is struggling or considering bankruptcy and you have unused gift cards, you should call the business and ask them to offer you cash for any remaining funds. Consumers can also ask debit or credit card companies to reverse the charges.
* File a claim for gift card amount. If the business is currently going through bankruptcy, consumers can file a claim against the company for the gift card amount. For more information, consumers can reference https://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/unclaimed-funds-bankruptcy to check on any unclaimed funds in their name or to file a claim against a current bankruptcy matter.
* Check unclaimed funds site for unused gift cards. Businesses are supposed to transfer any uncollected gift cards funds to the State Comptroller in the name of the purchaser. The New York State Office of the State Comptroller has an application process where you can search to see what funds are available in your name. You can access their site at: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/ouf/
Consumers having difficulty with an existing gift card are encouraged to file a complaint with the New York State Division of Consumer Protection. The Division of Consumer Protection provides voluntary mediation, between the consumer and business, when the consumer has been unsuccessful at reaching a resolution on their own. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. To view consumer alerts, consumers can visit https://www.dos.ny.gov/about/newsroom.html. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.