The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) today released tips to inform and empower New York consumers purchasing gift cards and gift certificates this holiday season. Gift cards are increasingly popular, so it is important for consumers to understand the pitfalls surrounding gift cards in order to avoid scams.
“The convenience of gift cards makes them a very popular present to give and receive during the holiday season,” said Acting Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. “If gift cards are on your holiday shopping list, the Division of Consumer Protection encourages you to know your rights when it comes to buying and using them to purchase goods.”
In New York, consumers who buy and use gifts cards have protections. Current 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:
- Research retailers before purchase. Verify the legitimacy of the seller. Check reviews and articles.
- 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 may be difficult to verify the dollar amount remaining.
- Review the terms and conditions. Consumers should always review the terms and conditions and check for hidden fees or 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.
- Check unclaimed funds site for unused gift cards. Businesses should transfer any uncollected gift cards funds to the State Comptroller in the name of the owner. The New York State Office of the State Comptroller has an application process where consumers can search to see what funds may be available for them. Consumers can access this site at: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/ouf/
- Beware of scammers. Scammers may try to get consumers’ gift cards. 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.
- Follow up with unused gift cards in the case of bankruptcy.
- If a 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.
- If a business is out of business or completed their bankruptcy filing, funds may also be available with the State Comptroller: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/unclaimed-funds.
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/consumer-protection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.