Odds are that you or someone you know received a gift card during the holiday season.
It is easy to see why. The cards are easy to purchase and (typically) easy to use. They can be the perfect primary gift for that difficult-to-buy-for-friend or a great stocking stuffer for a college student.
However, too many times I have heard stories about a gift card that was saved for a rainy day only to find out that there was no money on the card because too much time had elapsed.
One of the lesser-known roles of the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office involves gift cards. That is why I hear the stories. Here is what you can do to protect yourself:
Know that retail gift cards and bank gift cards are the two most common types of cards. Retail gift cards are only redeemable at a specific retailer or restaurant. Bank gift cards, which carry a payment network such as American Express, MasterCard, or Visa, can be used at any location that accepts that specific brand.
Resist the urge to save the card for a rainy day. Doing so may increase the likelihood that some of the card’s value will be consumed by fees. Instead, use the card and set aside an equal amount of cash for a rainy day.
Remember that while money on a typical bank gift card cannot expire for at least five years, depending upon the circumstances, inactivity fees can begin in as little as 12 months. Therefore, it is possible that inactivity fees could consume the cash value of a bank gift card before the five year window has expired.
Under Illinois’ Consumer Fraud Act, most gift cards sold in Illinois that are usable only at a specific retailer or restaurant are not allowed to incur inactivity fees.
Businesses that close likely will not honor an outstanding gift card.
Treat a gift card like cash. If lost or stolen, report it to law enforcement. Contact the card’s issuer to determine if a replacement card is possible and at what cost.
Today, the state treasurer’s office holds more than $2 billion in unclaimed property. Because our records are updated twice each year, we encourage residents to frequently check our I-Cash database, which can be found here or at www.illinoistreasurer.gov.
Our office never charges a fee to search for, or return, unclaimed property.
Michael W. Frerichs
Illinois State Treasurer