Buying gift cards for the holidays: what you need to know

By  | 

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (WDTV) - When it comes down to the most requested Christmas gift, it's not electronics, clothes, or jewlery; it's gift cards.

"Gift card sales obviously do spike during the holiday season," said David Skiba, Human Relations Executive Team Leader at Target in Bridgeport.

Skiba continued, "It can sometimes be hard to pick out the perfect gift, so a gift card is a great way to show someone that you care and lets them pick out the item that they want."

In fact, according to WalletHub, 41 percent of Americans will ask for the plastic present this christmas.

"The week after Christmas is typically our largest week for gift card redemption," Skiba said.

The three most popular gift cards are Amazon, Visa, and Walmart, followed closely by American Express, i-Tunes, and Target.

"Sometimes people aren't good at picking things out; you know what you like, so when you get a gift card, it's nice," said Justin Post, a Bridgeport resident.

However, gift cards might not be the best gift for everyone. CEB Tower Group reported that roughly $1 billion worth of gift cards goes unspent.

"It forces you to have to buy something somewhere you might not normally buy from," said Bridgeport resident Paul Phillips, "I'd rather give money so that the person can purchase what they want."

Consumers also need to watch out for scams that can pop up during the holidays. The West Virginia Attorney General's Office recently sent out a memo urging shoppers to use caution when purchasing holiday gift cards.

Thieves can use handheld scanners to hack into gift cards. Once the card is activated by an unknowing customer, the theif can make counterfeit cards or shop online.

Tips to stay safe from gift card scams include buying cards from behind the counter, or if you're selecting from a rack, choose from the middle where they're less likely to be tampered with.

Other tips include checking that the code hasn't been scratched off the back, making sure you keep your receipt, and having the cashier scan the card first to make sure it hasn't already been activated.

"We do make sure that every gift card sale is done accurately and according to our policies and procedures," Skiba said.

Christmas shoppers should feel secure in their gift card purchase knowing it's popularity, or the appreciation for them, isn't going away. Gift card sales are projected to reach $160 billion by 2018.

"Most of the feedback we hear, guests are very happy for the gift card they've received."