Gift card users run into little-known lockout

Gift card users run into little-known lockout

If you're one of the many people who frequently give and receive gift cards for the holidays there are fees and fraud protections in place you might not know about.

To Vanessa Abron, a gift card is often the perfect gift, especially the "open loop" type, which are network branded and can be used almost anywhere.

"I like the fact that having a gift card that doesn't limit me to one store just gives me the flexibility to buy anything that I want to buy," Vanessa said.

Vanessa is a savvy shopper and always reads the terms and conditions before buying or using a card.

"I was surprised to learn that gift cards can be locked," she said.

"Sometimes these, these gift cards will get locked and it's really all about fraud," said Matt Schulz, Senior Industry Analyst with

That's because experts say if an issuer is concerned that a gift card is being used fraudulently, a temporary hold may be placed on the card.

"If, for example, it's used in rapid succession or if there are a lot of returns of items that were purchased on the card," said Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association.

Oxman says the suspensions, though rare, are designed to protect consumers and gift card issuers.

So, what do you do if your card is locked after a legitimate day at the mall?

"Simply call the toll free number on the back of the card. That will allow you to speak to the customer service representative at the issuer, who can clear up any concerns that the issuer has about the usage of that card," Oxman said.

He points out, just like with traditional credit cards, regular returns can mean funds might not be immediately available.

"Because the merchant wants to, obviously make sure that the item was returned in good condition and there's no fraud taking place," Oxman said.

For anyone looking to buy an open loop gift card, experts say it's a good idea to give the recipient the receipt for the card in case they have any issues making purchases and need to know where the card came from.

Also, be sure to carefully read the terms and conditions since some cards have dormancy fees.

"If you don't use the card for a year or something like that, they may charge you a monthly fee for not having used it," Matt Schulz added.

CLICK HERE for the terms of service on several popular gift cards.

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