12 ON YOUR SIDE: Gift card precautions

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you're giving or getting a gift card for the holiday, be aware of hidden fees and the tricks criminals use to steal money from the card.

The Better Business Bureau also cautions shoppers to look at the card before you buy it.

Many gift cards have a personal PIN number on the back. If that area has been scratched, or the protective sticker removed, don't buy the card - tell the store manager.

Consumers should know the 'Credit Card Act' gives extra protections, making it illegal for retailers to set expiration dates less than five years. If you don't use the gift card right away, the money on your card is good for up to five years from the date the card was purchased.

It's illegal to charge 'inactivity' and 'service' fees, unless the card has not been used for 12 months. If fees are charged after that, they must be clearly disclosed on the card.

Unfortunately, not all fees are covered under the Credit Card Act, which governs gift cards.

Retailers can still charge a fee every time the card is used, whenever the balance is checked, or when a replacement card is requested.

The BBB recommends the following:

Avoid online auction sites. Cards sold there could be counterfeit so buy from a business you trust where you can examine and handle the card.

Read the fine print. Know how the card works, and whether fees will be deducted after you buy it.

Give the receipt along with the gift card to the recipient in case the card is lost or stolen or there's a discrepancy with the balance.

Some thieves use a card reader to duplicate the card information, then put it back on the shelf and wait for someone to buy it. When it's activated - and they know this by calling the number on the card - they start spending.

To learn more about gift card rules, check out www.federalreserve.gov.

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