Consumer Alert: Buying & giving gift cards

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By Emily Pritchard - epritchard@abc57.com

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- Holiday shoppers will spend nearly $30 billion on gift cards this season, which means you probably will be giving or getting one this season.

“It gives them a shopping experience as well as getting a gift," said Saint Mary's College Assistant Professor of Economics Richard Measell.

The average holiday shopper will spend nearly $165 on gift cards, according to the National Retail Federation.

“A few of my siblings would rather have money instead of gift cards because you get to choose where the money is going, but I don’t think anybody would ever turn down a gift card," said Madelaine Hidalgo, a freshman at Saint Mary's.

Hidalgo is wrapping up her end of semester studies, but like many, also has a looming holiday shopping.

"It's estimated that about $800 will be spent on Christmas shopping this year," said Measell. "That means about 1 in 5 dollars spent for Christmas presents will be in form of gift cards."

Measell said selling these cards are a win for the stores and restaurants. In return they get customers back in the doors, and sometimes they spend more than the amount on the gift card.

It's not a bad arrangement for the customers either. The giver gets a convenient way to share holiday cheer and the recipient gets to shop with someone else's money.

You do want to be observant when buying up plastic dollars for your loved ones.

Measell advises to make sure and give the receipt for the card along with the gift. That way if something goes wrong, there is a backup.

Also check the card before you buy it for any damages.

“You have to be careful that these cards have not been tampered with in some way because otherwise you buy $100 gift card and realize the $100 isn’t there," said Measell.

When dealing with bank cards, which work similar to debit cards, be mindful of extra changes that can be associated them.

“You have to be careful, is there a fee when you buy the card and it gets activated, and there can be inactivity fees," added Measell.

We asked Hidalgo and Measell if they plan of giving out gift cards this season. Measell said he will give out a few, but Hidalgo will opt for more personal gifts.

"I don’t think so just because when you’re giving someone a gift card I think its really impersonal, said Hidalgo, "I get normal gifts, like a physical gifts, for my family because I think it means more."

Measell said if you get a gift card you don't want, there are websites you can exchange them on. He said you will most likely lose some of the value, but in exchange, you can use the remaining money at a place you'd prefer.

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