Use caution buying gift certificates, gift cards

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—With more and more people buying gift cards and gift certificates during the holidays, Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka urges shoppers to be cautious consumers.

Topinka encourages anyone shopping for gift certificates to recognize that all gift certificates and gift cards are not created equal.

“Consumers need to look at the fine print and ask questions,” Topinka said. “One of the latest trends by some retailers is to issue gift cards and gift certificates with no expiration date, but they tack on service fees for non-usage. For example, you might not use the card for six months, and then the company starts deducting service fees or charging you to reactivate the card to use the remaining balance. Sometimes the reactivation fee is equal to the balance you have left. Eveyone needs to shop carefully and not be afraid to ask questions. Also, if you decide to buy a gift certificate with these restrictions, make sure you tell the recipient about them.

“Many of us buy gift certificates and gift cards for those people who have everything,” Topinka added. “And that’s great, but we need to be smart about it. We need to know what’s out there so we can make informed choices.”

More than two years ago, Topinka addressed the issue of expiration dates on gift certificates by passing a consumer-protection law that requires retailers to issue gift certificates with no expiration dates if they want to be in the EverCASH program. More than 450 retailers across Illinois participate in EverCASH, including clothing stores, hardware stores, book stores, restaurants, furniture stores, movie theaters, grocery stores, spas, beauty salons, music stores, and video stores. Holiday shoppers can find participating EverCASH retailers by looking for an EverCASH sticker on the cash register or at the entrance to a store, Topinka said.

Topinka noted that with the continuing change in technology, many retailers are accomplishing through service charges what they previously accomplished through expiration dates—running balances down to zero. She and her staff are looking at the issue of gift cards with service fees and charges.

In addition to benefiting customers, EverCASH also benefits retailers. Those participating in EverCASH no longer have to report unused gift certificates as unclaimed property. In the past, gift certificates constituted unclaimed property that holders were required to report to the State of Illinois if they were not redeemed within five years of purchase.

Individuals who have gift certificates that expired more than five years ago from non-participating retailers should contact Topinka’s office at 217-785-6998 or visit to see if the gift certificates have been submitted to the state as unclaimed property.

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