7 On Your Side: Advice, warnings about gift cards

American consumers are expected to spend $32 billion on gift cards this holiday season. The average consumer will plunk down more $170 on the plastic gifts, but do they really know what they are buying? 7 On Your Side has some advice and warnings.

It seems simple enough. You give a store $25 and you get a card worth $25 and then you then give as a gift. It can work like that, but not always.

Gift cards can be played like a fiddle if you know what you are doing, so 7 On Your Side spoke with expert Shelley Hunter. She bills herself as at the "Gift Card Girlfriend" and represents GiftCards.com.

"For the holidays, of course, there are lots of gift card sales that are out there," Hunter said.

She says first, look for discounted cards on this website and others as well as the stores themselves.

Often if you buy a gift card this time of year you will receive a bonus card. And then don't always think of gift cards as the actual gift.

"Gift cards are not just for giving. So with all these deals going on, whether it is our discount gift cards or the buy one, get one, you are looking at places where you already shop and you want to get some savings for yourself. If you are going to give your kids toys for Christmas, get a discount gift card to Toys"R"Us or look at Toys"R"Us and see if they have any discount gift card deals going on themselves," Hunter said.

She says to remember that gift cards play by their own rules, even stores with liberal return and exchange policies, often exclude gift cards returns.

"There is no federal or state law that dictates that gift cards can be returned or must be returned. So it is up to the merchant to decide, so merchants decide if they want to take that gift card back. So to be honest with you, it is an area of gift card fraud where people could be making false gift cards and bringing them in to get cash back, so really most merchants will not do that," Hunter said.

And if you get a card you don't want this holiday season, sell it online to Giftcards.com or any one of its many competitors.

There are a bunch of websites that buy and sell gift cards, so always check around to make sure you get the very best deal. And always assume a store offers gift cards.

We spoke to Hunter in a Simayof store. It's a high end jeweler just off of San Francisco's Union Square and we found it offers a gift cards. If you are feeling guilty for giving a gift card rather than an actual physical gift, don't! With a gift card you are giving the gift of shopping as well as the physical item.
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