'Tis The Season for Gift Certificates! What's Legal and What's Not.

We were wondering about dusting off last year's post about gift certificates when a chance glance at today's Bangor Daily News revealed they'd had exactly the same idea! So here is what we published then - again! Also you may want to check out the state's rules regarding how Gift Certificates are handled as abandoned property, at http://www.maine.gov/treasurer/unclaimed_property/report_property/law_policy.html

Note we have a name change: we have shortened our handle form Lawyer Referral & Information Service (phew!) to Lawyer Referral Service (though we still give out information!) And find us online at a new address, www.lawyer4me.org

Now that timely information!

Q. I gave my son-in-law a gift certificate to a big well-known on-line business. It was sent to him by e-mail, I got the confirmation, and it was charged to my credit card. He forgot about it for a few months; then he went to use it, but they said it was expired. That doesn’t seem right – my money didn’t expire! If this isn’t illegal, it should be

A. If he is a Maine resident, then yes, it is illegal. Maine law forbids expiration dates on gift cards. Write (don’t just call, write or e-mail) to the on-line business, explain that Maine law does not allow expiration of gift cards, say you intend to file a complaint with the Maine Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission and if they do not reinstate the card in thirty days, file your complaints. A few pointers:

1.      Always keep copies of your letters and e-mails and.

2.      When you talk to a representative of the business, take notes of what you say and of what the Rep. says.

3.      Don’t be a paper tiger. If you say you will file a complaint in thirty days, do it and do on day number 31.

4.      When you talk to someone at a government office, take notes.

5.      Do not under any circumstances take No for an answer. 

If your son-in-law lives in another state, Maine law may not apply, but a new federal law may help. Effective August 22, 2010, gift cards that expire in less than five years are illegal. In other words, the retailer had no business cancelling the card and pocketing your money. That racket is against the law, and the retailer must reinstate the card in full. If this well-known retailer values its reputation, it will cooperate. If it refuses to play ball, file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the authorities in the state where he lives. Get started and good luck!

Do you have a question about the law?

E-mail Ask A Lawyer at AAL@mainebar.org

and look for the answer in this space.

This information is presented as a public service by the Lawyer Referral  Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Contact LRIS at 800-860-1460 for referral to an appropriate attorney in private practice, or for information regarding other resources.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER  The information contained in this article is a general response to the question and does not constitute legal advice.  If you require legal assessment of a situation, advice, or representation, consult an attorney who practices in the area of law involved.  For more legal information, go to www.lawyer4me@org                            

© Revised 2012 Maine State Bar Association


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