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What's bugging you? Gift card leftovers

April 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Do you have trouble getting cash back on gift cards? You tell us that is what is bugging you. Here are the new rules everybody needs to know about.Do you have trouble getting cash back on gift cards? You tell us that is what is bugging you. Here are the new rules everybody needs to know about.

Tami Freeman has a lot of gift cards. As a teacher she gets them from students and parents. She says they're convenient but when she has just a few dollars left on them, rather than carry them around or lose them, she wants to get the cash.

"The usual response is, 'We don't give change on gift cards,' and you feel kind of silly asking, especially when it's a small amount," said Freeman.

And that bugged her. So she asked Eyewitness News to look into it.

She can get the money. California law says if a gift card has less than $10 on it you can get the change in cash.

But Freeman says it isn't that easy.

"Most places the cashier's didn't know about the law and said it was store policy not to give change," said Freeman. "I wrote a bunch of e-mails to different companies to let them know. I don't think it's the cashier's fault. They haven't been trained."

"The law has required merchants to redeem that gift card for cash," Russ Heimerich with the California Department of Consumer Affairs said. "Not a lot of merchants know about that or they didn't. More and more are learning about it."

The laws in California are very consumer friendly. Gift cards from individual stores don't expire and they don't have monthly fees.

The rules are different for cards like mall cards that are good at several different stores. Or with American Express, Visa And MasterCard gift cards.

"Those can have an expiration date, you want to be careful," Heimerich said. "Also dormancy fees cannot be charged except under a very limited and specific rules, which means they can't be charged."

Freeman says she doesn't give up easily. Even when cashiers and managers told her no. She e-mailed the companies to get her money.

"I'm not really the type that likes to do that so it's a little uncomfortable to ask for a manager I'm hoping that if people start talking about it it will change," said Freeman.

"If you have a problem, go to the store manager or go to their regional offices because generally they are aware and you can get your $10 or less back," Heimerich said.

The law is in place because every year millions of dollars in gift cards go unused. Many people simply find it hard to spend just a dollar or two on a card. Officials say if you have one be persistent and know your rights.

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