Getting the Most From Gift Cards
Gift cards have become the go-to present for parents who have run out of time, ideas or, let's be honest, holiday spirit. Easy as they are to purchase, getting the most from gift cards requires a bit of savvy. Here are a few tips:
* Choose the right card. A closed-loop gift card can be used only at the store or restaurant that issues it. Prepaid bank gift cards can be used wherever a debit card would be accepted, but there's a fee for that convenience.
* Don't buy off the rack. When cards are easily accessible, crooks can collect identifying numbers. They then call the toll-free number to find out when the card is activated and spend the balance while your present is waiting to be given. To avoid this, purchase cards that are kept behind the counter. Look for a scratch-off PIN and be sure it is intact.
* Be smart online. Don't buy gift cards by clicking on a link in an email or a text message. These offers are invariably scams that steal personal information. You'll also want to avoid auction sites where there's a high risk of getting a card that is counterfeit, expired or fraudulent.
* Look for discounts. Legitimate discounts on gift cards are available from resellers such as plasticjungle.com, giftcardrescue.com and cardpool.com. Before buying, be sure the website guarantees the value of the card. Also check shipping charges because they can quickly offset discounts
* Express your spirit. Many companies sell gift cards with special messages for the holidays. Better yet, design your own card with a personal photo or message at a site like giftcard.com.
* Share the joy. At giftcardsforacause.com, a wide variety of cards are available to purchase, and it's easy to designate a charity to receive a percentage of what you spend.
* Personalize the packaging. To make gift-card giving more fun, insert the card into a holiday ornament, the paws of a small stuffed animal, a pair of socks, a trinket box, a book, a wallet, a puzzle box or even a gift-card organizer.
* Skip the plastic. Some companies allow you to send an e-card directly to a mobile phone or even a Facebook page. Be sure to alert recipients with a card or some other tangible reminder that they've received a virtual gift.
* Get a receipt. No matter how you buy your gift card, get a receipt that includes the card number. If the card is lost or stolen, recovering its value is more likely if you have documentation. Should you have a problem with a card, contact the company that issued it. If the company can't or won't resolve the problem, complain to the Federal Trade Commission (877-FTC-HELP) about cards issued by retailers or Comptroller of the Currency (800-613-6743) about cards issued by banks.
* Be sure to spend the cards your family receives during the holidays. For cards you can't use, consider selling them back to sites that sell discounted cards. Before shipping off a card, review the FAQs to be sure you understand exactly what you'll receive in return. For example, plasticjungle.com converts cards into cash, credits on Amazon or even a donation to a charity that will make the holidays better for those in need. Now that's a way to rekindle holiday spirit!
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer savvy kids, including one with special needs. She has been writing a column about growing up with technology for 10 years.