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What Shoppers Need to Know About Gift Cards

Retail gift cards have become an increasingly popular way for consumers to buy things. However, in light of the economic downturn, many consumers have been asking what they should do to protect themselves if they have purchased gift cards from a retailer, and that retailer later files for bankruptcy or goes out of businesses.

New federal rules went into effect in 2010 that are designed to protect consumers by restricting gift card fees and gift card expiration dates. These rules apply to two types of cards: Retail gift cards, which can only be redeemed at the retailers and restaurants that sell them; and bank gift cards, which carry the logo of a payment card network like American Express or Visa and can be used wherever the brand is accepted.

The FTC has brought enforcement actions against several companies for deceptive marketing of gift cards. It also has information available for consumers about shopping for and using gift cards.