FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 14, 2009
Contact: Lloyd P. LaFountain III
Maine Bureau of Financial Institutions
Urges Extra Care When Purchasing Gift Cards
GARDINER, MAINE – This holiday season, the Maine Bureau of Financial Institutions is urging consumers to always read the fine print associated with gift cards. According to Lloyd P. LaFountain III, Superintendent of the Bureau of Financial Institutions, “many consumers are often unaware that some gift cards have expiration dates, fees and other terms that can significantly reduce their value over time.”
“People purchasing or receiving gift cards should read the terms and conditions. Although they’re a popular and convenient way to give, some gift cards have drawbacks, such as limitations on where they can be used and few options if cards are lost or stolen,” LaFountain explained.
Whether you buy or receive gift cards, you should read the disclosures to understand important terms and conditions, including:
- Any fees that apply during or after the sale that reduce the value of the card;
- Expiration date;
- What to do if the card is lost or stolen;
- What to do if there are problems with the card;
- Where the card can be used; and
- How to claim any unused portion of the card.
If these disclosures are not stated on the gift card or its packaging, check for a toll-free number or website. For national banks that issue gift cards, the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has issued guidance that requires clear disclosure of fees and terms. It also states that banks should avoid any marketing that misleads people about the terms, conditions, or limitations of the gift card.
For entities subject to Maine law, a period of limitation (expiration date) may not be imposed on the customer’s right to redeem pre-funded bank cards or stored-value gift cards. Maine law also requires disclosure of permissible fees and provides that if a stored-value card is redeemed in person and a balance of less than $5 remains following redemption, the merchant redeeming the stored-value card must refund the balance in cash if requested by the consumer.
Most important, according to the Bureau of Financial Institutions, a consumer can generally avoid fees and lost cards by using the card soon after receipt.
The Bureau of Financial Institutions is part of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, which encourages sound ethical business practices through impartial regulation of insurers, financial institutions, creditors, investment providers, and numerous professions and occupations for the purpose of protecting the citizens of Maine. Consumers can reach the Bureau through the Department’s website (www.maine.gov/pfr); by calling 1-800-965-5235 or by writing to Bureau of Financial Institutions, 36 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04333.