Gift Cards. In my opinion they have become the de facto present. It's easy for people to purchase them and the recipients like them because they get to choose what to purchase. Since January, however, the BBB has received more than 440 complaints about the gift card industry, up from the 33 complaints received in 2010. In some cases, consumers are disgruntled when they are given an expired gift card with loaded cash that isn’t usable until the date is corrected. Complainants say that after sending in expired cards for replacement, they have been left empty-handed when updated cards were never returned. The Better Busienss Burea has a few guidelines that we should all follow.

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    Know the rules.

    Federal rules that went into effect in 2010 restrict fees and affect expiration dates on gift cards that are redeemed at retail establishments and restaurants. Bank gift cards, which carry the logo of a payment card network such as American Express, Visa or MasterCard, can be used wherever the brand is accepted.

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    Check it out.

    Buy from a known and trusted source. Always check out a business at www.bbb.org. Avoid online auction sites, because the cards sold there may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.

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    Inspect the card before buying it.

    Verify that no protective stickers have been removed, and that the codes on the back of the card haven’t been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.

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    Provide the recipient with back up.

    Give the recipient the original receipt in case the card is later lost or stolen. Think twice about getting gift cards from retailers or restaurants that are struggling financially. If the business closes, it may be hard to find another location where the card can be used. If a retail store does close, card recipients should call the business or its competitor to find out if they are redeeming the cards, or if they will do so at a later date.

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    Treat the gift card like cash.

    For recipients, it’s important to report lost or stolen cards to the issuer immediately. Some issuers will not replace cards, while others will – for a fee. Use gift cards as soon as possible.