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Know what type of card you want:

Retail gift cards can be used only at a specific business or restaurant. Bank gift cards can be used at any location that accepts cards from that bank network.

Buy directly from a business or bank. Avoid online auction or classified ad sites, where the cards may have been stolen or counterfeited. Be cautious about buying gift cards from a business in financial trouble; a company in bankruptcy may not be able to honor its cards.

Review the card’s terms and conditions before you buy to make sure the card’s a good value. For example, are there activation and/or transaction fees? What’s the issuer’s responsibility if the card’s lost? Does the card have an expiration date?

Gift cards issued by Virginia merchants must include certain disclosures. If the card doesn’t include an expiration date and/or will diminish in value over time, it must include a telephone number or internet address where you can learn more about the card’s expiration and valuation.

As a result of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, effective August 22, 2010, gift cards cannot incur inactivity fees unless they’re inactive for at least a 12-month period. Look for issuers to compensate for these lost dormancy fees by introducing new fees, like a charge to inquire about the card’s remaining balance.

Inspect the card before your buy it. Reject the card if protective stickers are missing or if PINs are exposed. These are signs of tampering.

Register the gift card online if the service is offered.
Keep your receipt and any paperwork associated with the purchase. You may need it later in case the card is lost or stolen. If you are giving the card as a gift, give both the card and the paperwork.

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