Gift cards are easy to give and great to receive. But be careful if you shop online. Some cards sold on auction sites are counterfeit or stolen. What will you do if you receive a card that doesn't work?
Plus, there's an important difference between cards sold by merchants and those issued by banks and malls. Under a Washington law, gift cards and gift certificates sold by retailers never expire or carry expensive maintenance fees. But the law doesn't apply to VISA and Mastercard gift cards. Consumer Reports editors say $8 billion worth of gift cards given last year have yet to be used. So when shopping this season, decide whether you want a gift card that can be used virtually anywhere, or the security of one that doesn't expire or have costly fees.
Some merchants offer you protection when you register a gift card on their Web site; they will replace a lost or stolen card that has been registered. But not all do this, so treat gift cards as cash and keep them in a safe place.