Buyer beware: Watch out for gift card "gotchas" during the holidays

MADISON (WITI) -- Gift cards are a big hit for shoppers and gift recipients alike. That's because they're available everywhere and prized for their convenience.

But if gift cards are on your shopping list this holiday season, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection suggests that you follow some simple tips to ensure that both you and the gift recipients receive the full value of the present.

Text message and social media scams from the past couple of years promise a $500 or $1,000 gift card from a major retailer in exchange for completing a survey or paying a shipping charge. Within the message is a link to start the redemption process, but clicking that link will load malware to your device or send you to a site that is set up to capture your personal or banking information. If you receive a similar message, delete it and do not click any links.

It is best to buy gift cards directly from the retailer or from an authorized merchant, but if you are considering buying an unused card second-hand, purchase it from someone you know and trust. Used or unwanted gift cards show up for sale online through auction sites and classified ads, and while some cards may be legitimate, others may be counterfeit, may be drained of their value, or may have been stolen from a store and never activated at a register. If the gift card merchant discovers that your card is fraudulent, the merchant will deactivate the gift card and refuse to honor it for purchases.

Consider these additional tips to ensure that the user gets the full value of the card:

    For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at, send an e-mail to or call the Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.