Store's closed but you have a gift card?


POSTED: Friday, March 20, 2009

Have a gift card for Circuit City or KB Toys? They became worthless on the last day of business for the two bankrupt retailers.

Got a gift card to E&O Trading Co., but didn't use it before they closed at Ward Centre last month?

Well, if you can afford the flight to California, you can still use it at other E&Os open in San Francisco, Larkspur and San Jose.

If you don't have time to fly over the Pacific, you're in luck. Former managing partner Kenwei Chong says P.F. Chang's has graciously offered to accept the cards - and is offering 50 percent off a bill up to $50 regardless of the value on them.

For other shuttered restaurants, you may be out of luck.

Here's the deal: Gift cards are a popular gift item, especially when you don't know what to get for someone. But so many stores and restaurants are closing left and right these days that it would be smart to check out the place you're buying it from, first.

You also might consider whether the recipient will remember to use it or forget about it at the bottom of his or her drawer.

Also, make sure you know the card's terms and conditions.

There are two types of gift cards, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission - retail gift cards sold by retailers and restaurants that only can be used with those merchants, and bank gift cards, which carry the logo of a payment card network like VISA or MasterCard, and can be used at any location that accepts cards from that network.

Laws vary by state, but check for expiration dates or fees for inactivity called a “;dormancy fee.”; Bank gift cards are more likely to have fees for activation, maintenance or transactions, says the FTC.

In the state of Hawaii, gift cards cannot come with fees, nor expire before two years.

Stephen Levins, director of the Office of Consumer Protection, which issued a warning about the KB Toys gift cards, says there is little recourse for customers.

“;When a business files for bankruptcy, in the vast majority of instances, the consumers are left holding a worthless piece of plastic,”; he said.

The best advice he has for recipients of gift cards is to “;use it as fast as possible.”; The same goes for gift certificates. Treat it like unused cash.

Sometimes, said Levins, merchants will still honor a gift card even after it's two-year expiration date as a courtesy to the customer.

Unredeemed gift cards also can be turned into the state as abandoned property.

Where merchants can get in trouble, he said, is if they continue to sell gift cards with the knowledge that they're going out of business.

That could be considered a deceptive trade practice, he said, but many businesses fail for reasons beyond their control.

Now I know many of you are wondering about the GGP gift cards issued by the debt-ridden General Growth Properties, which owns Ala Moana Center and Ward Centers.

Rumors were flying over the last holiday season that the cards would be no good if General Growth filed for bankruptcy. There's no question GGP is in dire financial straits, but the gift cards should be good as long as American Express is still around.

The GGP gift cards are issued and backed by American Express, according to GGP customer services manager Debra Martinson.

Any merchant that accepts American Express should accept the GGP gift cards, which are usable at Ala Moana Center, Ward Centers, Windward Mall and General Growth malls across the U.S.

If a consumer has an expired gift card, he or she also can call American Express to request a check for the full value, Martinson said.

More information about GGP gift cards is available at www.ggp.com/GiftCards.


”;Here's The Deal,”; which helps consumers stretch their dollars in these tough economic times, runs every other Friday.