Wednesday

Gift Cards and the Law


The Holiday that millions of people got this year? Gift cards. About 80% of all consumers bought a gift card for Holiday giving. It's are a billion dollar business.  And there's a law for that in most states, Ohio included.
 There's an Ohio Gift Card law and a Federal Gift Card law to protect you if something goes wrong. Here's some important tips on Gift Cards and the Law.

Q.:       Why are there two laws that cover gift cards?
A.:       The state law was enacted several years before the federal law and each law covers different gift cards in different circumstances, with some overlapping coverage too. Because gift cards may sometimes be used in different states, a federal law was also needed to protect consumers who purchase and receive gift cards.
 
Q.:       What do the gift card laws do?
A.:       Under Ohio’s law, a gift card must maintain its full value for at least two full years from the date it was issued. The Ohio law also prohibits retailers from charging service or other fees for two years from the date it was issued. The Federal Gift Card Law only covers store issued gift cards and bank issued gift cards, but it requires those cards to have full value for at least 5 years. But when you buy a store gift card at a third party location (called “card malls”) the federal law does not cover the gift card – only the Ohio law.
 
Q.:       Do these laws apply to all gift cards?
A.:       No.  The Ohio law does not apply to cards given as part of a customer loyalty program, cards sold by non-profit organizations, cards given to employees by their employers or gift cards that are usable at any unaffiliated sellers of goods or services, such as Visa or Mastercard, etc., or to prepaid telephone calling cards. The Federal law only applies to store issued and bank issued cards and to gift cards that are freely given away as a promotion.
 
Q.:       Can I be charged a fee if I don’t use my gift card for a while?
A.:       If your card is covered by the Ohio law only, then you do not have to pay any fees for at least two years. If the gift card is covered by the Federal law, then any fees have to be clearly disclosed on the card itself or with its packaging and no fee can be imposed unless the card has not been used for at least a year.
           
Q.:       What if an Ohio store breaks the law and does not honor the full value of the card?
A.:       You can go to small claims court to ask for compensation of no more than the original value of the card, plus court costs and attorney fees.  In addition, if the judge rules the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act has been violated too, then you may even recover up to three times the full amount of the card plus costs and attorney fees.

Burdge Law Office
Helping Consumers Protect Themselves Since 1978