How to give holiday gift cards

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But even the most patient shopper has his or her limits, and many people find themselves giving gift cards to those friends or family members who seemingly have everything already. Such cards make great gifts, but only when gift givers employ a few tricks of the gift card trade.

* Buy directly from the retailer.

It’s easy to be duped by a counterfeit gift card, which can be embarrassing for both the gift giver and its eventual recipient. Counterfeit gift cards are big business for criminals who prey on gift givers during the holiday season.

Only buy gift cards directly from the retailer, as cards sold by other sources, such as an online auction site, may be stolen or counterfeit. You don’t want to be the person who gave a stolen or counterfeit card, and your friend or family member does not want to be subjected to an inquiry as to why he or she is attempting to use a stolen or counterfeit card.

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*Examine the card before leaving the store.

Once a cashier or customer service employee hands you a gift card, examine it for tampering before leaving the store. Some criminals gain access to gift cards, even those that appear to be behind lock and key, to learn the PIN number associated with the card.

Once they have the PIN, recipients can then recreate their own card, using the stolen PIN to activate and make purchases on their counterfeit cards long before the real card is sold to you. If you detect any damage, ask for a new card before leaving the store.

*Include a gift receipt with the card.

When giving a gift card, don’t forget to include the gift receipt. The gift receipt not only verifies the value of the gift card, but also includes the date the card was purchased. That’s important information, as many companies begin to charge fees, some of which may be exorbitant, on unused cards after a predetermined period of time.

Recipients who have the gift receipt won’t have to haggle with retailers about the value of the card should that ever be in dispute, and the receipt also can serve as a reminder that the recipient needs to use the card before a given date to avoid fees.

* Consider a general purpose gift card.

If that stickler on your holiday shopping list is especially difficult to shop for, then you might want to consider a general purpose gift card issued by a company such as American Express, MasterCard or Visa.

These cards generally allow recipients to use their gift wherever they choose, whether it’s to put gas in their tank or buy groceries. That versatility is valuable if you truly have no idea what your friend or family member needs or where he or she likes to shop.

One notable disadvantage to general purpose gift cards is that they tend to come with more fees than more traditional gift cards purchased directly from specific retailers. Investigate these fees and find a card that charges no fees or only minimal fees.

Gift cards make great gifts and can bail out frustrated holiday shoppers who simply can’t find that perfect gift for a friend or family member. But when shopping for gift cards, be sure to exercise caution before buying a card so your loved one is not put in an embarrassing or costly situation.

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