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Buyer Beware, Gift Card Complaints Up This Holiday Season

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Ginger Allen
Ginger is the Senior Investigative Reporter of the CB...
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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – The number one gift to give this season is receiving hundreds of complaints.  According to the National Retail Federation, eight in 10 holiday shoppers plan to give gift cards as presents.

CBS 11 decided to visit some North Texas stores where shoppers say the card was not the perfect gift.

They’re everywhere you look – online, near the grocery store checkout, and even on your phone.  The National Retail Federation says shoppers will spend nearly $30 billion on gift cards this holiday season, but before you buy…beware!

“This year so far there have been 440 complaints,” said BBB spokeswoman, Jeannette Kopko. That new number is more than 12 times the number of complaints logged against gift cards in 2010.

Consumers like Judy Suarez say ‘watch out’.  She had a problem at an Olive Garden restaurant.

“There was a service fee, and I had it for probably over a year, so by the time I went to use it, it was down to $0,” Suarez explained.

Olive Garden told CBS 11 that it stopped the practice of charging dormancy fees in 2007, and doesn’t understand how this could’ve happened.

Officials with the restaurant chain encouraged Suarez and others who’ve had problems to contact their guest relations department.

Click here to read Olive Garden’s full statement.

But it wasn’t just Olive Garden.  Suarez experienced another common gift card problem.

“Twice I went to you use a gift card that had expired,” she said.  “It’s money that’s already been given!”

Problems with expiration dates have become one of the targets of recent federal rules.  The Federal Trade Commission now requires companies to give you at least five years to use a gift card before it expires.

The FTC has also stopped businesses from charging monthly fees for not using a card for up to one year.  But, those rules do not address every complaint.

Last December, Andrew Armstrong of Dallas bought hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards from a Qdoba restaurant. The purchase was made during a store promotion that gave him several $5 vouchers for making the gift card purchases.

Armstrong said he soon discovered the vouchers he received had expired almost an entire year before he got them.

“It would have been one thing if it was just I got burned, or I didn’t get the promotion I thought I was getting,” Armstrong said.  “But when I had given these vouchers out as gifts to people it makes me look tacky, it makes me look cheap!”

Armstrong said Qdoba management didn’t respond to his complaint until CBS 11 got involved.  A spokesperson told us it was an ‘honest mistake’.  The restaurant now wants to remedy the situation with Armstrong, and is taking steps internally to ensure that the mistake is not made again.

Click here to read Qdoba’s full statement.

Meantime, a customer who purchased two $50 gift cards for Dino’s Steak and Claw House in Grapevine complained after finding out he had to spend $100 to redeem the $50 card.

A manager at Dino’s told CBS 11 gift cards sold at the restaurant don’t have those restrictions, but that those sold on Restaurant.com do.  CBS 11 contacted the website in question, and a representative said they would exchange the customer’s certificate for another restaurant, but warned that restrictions should be looked at carefully before purchasing gift cards.

Click here to read Restaurant.com’s full statement.

Jeannette Kopko with the Dallas Better Business Bureau had the same warning.  “There could be variations, consumers need to look at the card and the fine print,” she suggested.

There are different rules when it comes to store/restaurant gift cards and cards with bank or credit logos on them.  Click here to read more about the differences and things you need to know before you buy.

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