Information on Ohio's Consumer Laws from Attorney Daniel Myers, Myers Law, LLC, not legal advice
Nearly everyone has bought or used a gift card. They are great items to give as wedding, birthday, and even Christmas presents. Well, as long as you aren’t giving these cards to a newly married couple. If you’re like me, you will find a partially used, 18-month old gift card in your desk or dresser. Have you wondered how old is too old for a gift card? When does a gift card expire? Is it when the Company tells you it expires, or some other time? With more and more people buying and exchanging these cards, you need to know your rights.
Believe it or not, Ohio has a Gift Card Statute which regulates most gift cards. Under this law, “gift cards” cannot expire within two years after they are issued. No one can even diminish the value of the “gift card” during these two years by charging you fees or other service charges. If there is no expiration date on the gift card itself, the card does not expire until it is completely used, or it is replaced, despite what the company selling it may tell you.
What about those pre-paid debit gift cards? Some cards do charge fees, or expire, before the end of two years, and they are allowed to. Like any other legal term, “gift cards” have a special meaning under the Ohio statute, and there are exceptions for specific types of cards. For example, a gift card which you obtain for free from an awards, loyalty, or promotional program, does not have to comply with these rules. Gift cards sold by a non-profit for fundraising purposes do not have to comply with this law. A gift card that can be used at multiple, unaffiliated companies does not need to comply with the law. Pre-paid calling cards are not included in the definition of “gift cards,” and airline gift cards do not need to comply with this state law because they are regulated by federal laws.
However, most of the gift cards in circulation are covered by this law. This includes many certificates you buy for restaurant meals, services, movies, food, retail stores, etc.
If you bought a gift card less than two years ago, and a seller refuses to accept it, or charges you fees (other than the cost of the item or service you purchased), you may be able to recover the amount you lost from your gift card, plus court costs, and have your attorney fees covered, as well. Losing $5 may not seem like much to you this time, but it adds up overtime, and the seller likely isn’t doing this to just you, but all other gift card owners. You face very little, if any, risk in bringing your claim to an attorney to discuss your legal options.
If you believe you have been wrongly charged a service fee, if a seller tells you that your card has expired before the end of two years, or if a seller refuses to honor a card without an expiration date, you should seek legal help from an experienced consumer law attorney. These unscrupulous companies will continue to get away with this illegal conduct until their customers stand up to these unfair and deceptive acts.
Would you let someone steal $5 from your wallet or purse? Would you let someone make an unauthorized and illegal purchase with one of your debit cards? Probably not. Don’t let a corporation or individual illegally take the money from your gift cards, either.