Consumer Alert: Forgotten gift cards

Consumer Alert: Forgotten gift cards

Gift cards are popular every holiday season but often they are forgotten. Consumers should be using those cards now, especially if the stores in question are in financial trouble.

"The longer you hold onto a card the more likely you are to just forget you have it," said Shelley Hunter, the so-called "Gift Card Girlfriend."

Hunter is a spokesperson for She says not only do cards get lost and forgotten, sometimes they lose their value.

"We have pretty good consumer laws that makes sure stores don't expire their gift cards or charge fees against them. But if a store goes out of business, the game changes a little bit," said Hunter.

In other words, when a business goes under, their gift cards are often worthless. That is the case now with millions of dollars worth of gift cards from RadioShack.

The same happened with stores like Cache, Borders, and The Sharper Image. In fact, Hunter says when companies start restructuring or cutting back, it is a sign that something could be up.

"If you have gift card to a store that's going out of business, you know it's having some sort of financial trouble, the urgency is even greater," said Hunter.

"Scam artists have also been going after gift cards. That's why you want to take some precautions when you buy them," Hunter added. "Inspect the packaging; make sure it doesn't look tampered with. If you buy a gift card from the rack, buy from the middle of the rack or the back, instead of the front where maybe the thieves are less likely to have been tampered with those."

Even with all that, Hunter says she is still a big fan of gift cards but she says don't let them gather dust.

"If you have a gift card from the holidays and you haven't used it, you should be using it right now."

Here are some suggestions on what to do with gift cards that are lying around, according to USA Today:

Donate: contact your favorite cause and ask if they accept donated gift cards. Many charities can use them to buy supplies. You can also consider using a website like Gift Card Giver, which distributes donated gift cards to approved organizations and individuals.

Sell or trade: a number of websites allow people to sell their gift cards online for a reduced amount or trade them for another card. You won't get the full value of the original gift card, but you will get cash or a card to use at a place you want.

Check around and compare to find the one that gives you the best deal.

Here are a few places to start:

If you would rather do it in person, CoinStar Exchange kiosks also pay cash for gift cards.

Regift: it's easy to give an unwanted gift card to a friend or family member with no one being the wiser. And there's less pressure about cards expiring since passage of the The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, under which it was established that cards cannot expire until five years from the date they were issued or money was added.

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