Little-Known State Law Protects Gift Card Users

Calif. Law Says Consumer Can Ask For Cash Back If Card Amount Is Less Than $10

Gift cards are convenient and popular, especially during the holiday season. They were an estimated $100 billion industry in 2011.

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But not everyone gets around to using them. According to analyst Brian Riley of TowerGroup, about $41 billion in gift cards went unspent. A large portion of that unused money comes from cards with just a few dollars left -- too little for many to bother and a bother for many who do use them up.

Some shoppers said they ended up spending more than the gift card. But did you know if you have less than $10 left on a store gift card, you can ask that store for the cash?

San Diego Assistant City Attorney Tricia Pummill said most consumers still seem unaware of the state law that went into effect in 2008. She said retailers need to know the law as well.

"If the store is really not willing to comply with the law, then we would ask people to let us know that," said Pummill.

There are exceptions, however. The law doesn't apply to credit card-based gift cards like those from MasterCard, Visa or American Express. It also doesn't apply to promotional cards given away for free.

Pummill said unless consumers ask and are aware of what they're entitled to, they may let their gift cards go dormant and never get their money back.

To report retailers that won't comply with the state law, the city attorney's office urges consumers to call their Consumer Protection hotline at 619-533-5600.

For learn more about the state's gift card law, click here.

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