FTC Consumer Alert
Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection Division of Consumer & Business Education
Buying, Giving, and Using Gift Cards
Shopping for gifts can be a real dilemma. Just what do you get your finicky Aunt Mary, your co-
worker, or your child’s babysitter? Gift cards may be the answer: one size fits all, and the recipients
can get exactly what they want from a retailer or restaurant.
But before you buy a stack of gift cards, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s
consumer protection agency, wants you to know that there are two types:
retail gift cards
, which are sold by retailers and restaurants, and can be used only with those
merchants. Retail gift cards may have expiration dates or a fee for inactivity that sometimes is
called a “dormancy fee.”
bank gift cards
, which carry the logo of a payment card network like VISA or MasterCard,
and can be used at any location accepting cards from that network. There are more likely to be
fees for activation, maintenance, or transactions on bank gift cards than on retail gift cards.
Tips for buying gift cards
Regardless of where or whom you buy a gift card from, the FTC recommends that you:
Buy from sources you know and trust. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites,
because the cards may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.
Read the fine print before you buy. If you don’t like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.
Ask about expiration dates and fees when you’re buying a card. This information may appear
on the card itself, on the accompanying sleeve or envelope, or on the issuer’s website. If you
don’t see it, ask. If the information is separate from the gift card, give it to the recipient with
the card to help protect the value of the card.
Consider purchase fees: Must you pay a fee to buy the card? If you buy the card online or
on the phone, is there a fee for shipping and handling? Does expedited delivery cost more?
Consider fees that may b