Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx wants to remind consumers to be mindful when purchasing gift cards and gift certificates this holiday season.
Paying special attention to terms and conditions of gift cards and certificates can help avoid disappointment after the purchase. Undisclosed fees, limitations, rules, and expiration dates may significantly affect or decrease the value of the gift certificate or card.
The following precautions are recommended when purchasing gift certificates and cards.
- BUY FROM REPUTABLE SOURCES: Purchase gift certificates and cards from sources that you know and trust. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites – the cards may be counterfeit or may have been obtained through fraud.
- CHECK THE REPUTATION OF THE BUSINESS: Conduct an online reputation check of the store or company before you purchase the gift certificate or gift card. Search the name of the issuer with the word “complaints” or “scam.” You can also contact the Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois, Inc. www.chicago.bbb.org to view the BBB rating and read customer reviews about the company.
- CONSIDER THE FINANCIAL CONDITION OF THE ISSUER: If the store or company goes out of business or files for bankruptcy, you will not be able to redeem gift cards and certificates and they become worthless.
- USE A CREDIT CARD: You may be able to protect yourself by using a credit card to purchase gift certificates or cards. If you don’t receive purchased gift cards or they cannot be redeemed because of failure of the issuer, you may be able to have your credit card company may reverse the charge. In general, you have sixty (60) days from the time you first receive your credit card statement to dispute a charge.
- GET IT IN WRITING: Don’t rely on any oral promises regarding the gift certificate or card. Request copies of any documents that explain the terms of the gift certificate or gift card. Provide the recipient with the original receipt and any documents that explain the use of the gift certificate or card.
- READ THE FINE PRINT: Carefully review the terms and conditions of the gift certificate or card. Look for expiration dates, diminishing value over time, fees and any other restrictions or limitations. Important information may appear on the gift certificate or card itself, on an accompanying sleeve or envelope, or on the issuer’s website.
Illinois law regulates gift certificates and gift cards, with some exceptions, under Section 505/2SS of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (815 ILCS 505/2SS). This Illinois law covers expiration dates and post-purchase fees for gift certificates and gift cards that were issued at any time after January 1, 2008. The entire text of this law can be accessed online at the website of the Illinois General Assembly at www.ilga.gov.
- EXPIRATION DATES: No person or company can sell a gift certificate or gift card in Illinois with an expiration date earlier than five (5) years after the date of issuance.
- POST-PURCHASE FEES: No person or company can sell a gift certificate or card in Illinois with a post-purchase fee. The face value of a gift certificate or card may not be reduced in value for non-use or untimely redemption.
- EXEMPTIONS: Prepaid telephone cards, prepaid technical support cards, and gift certificates usable at multiple sellers are not covered by the Illinois law. Gift certificates for food products, free gift certificates, and gift certificates that are sold below face value to employers or to nonprofit and charitable groups for fundraising purposes are also exempt from the Illinois law.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Consumer Fraud Unit reviews consumer complaints about gift certificates and cards. If you feel you have been the victim of fraud involving the purchase of a gift certificate or card, contact the Consumer Fraud Unit at (312) 603-8700.