Gift cards, if lost, unused or simply forgotten about by the consumer add mucho dollars to many company’s bottom line profits. Best Buy added $43 million to its profit in 2006 from unused gift cards, according to ABC and CBS News.

Why aren’t these cards subject to the unclaimed property laws of each state?

If a customer leaves a deposit or has unused outstanding credits at a business, that business is normally required, after a certain period of time, to turn the money over to the state. The state then tries to get the money to the rightful owner through advertising or listings in web sites. Seems to me that gift cards would be in the same category as deposits, or unused credit memos. Many companies try to get around this by charging a monthly “maintenance fee“. My informal research on the web indicates some states do require companies to turn over unused gift card funds (Pennsylvania for example) to the unclaimed propert division of that state. Most apparently do not. I think all states should require this. If someone pays $100 for a gift card, for a company to promise to deliver goods and services upon presentation of that card, and the card is given to someone to receive that benefit from the card and the card ultimately isn’t used, that company shouldn’t be able to claim all the money as profit. They haven’t delivered anything promised.

Montgomery County in Maryland has a pdf file which serves as an informative guide to gift cards in 2007. See especially page 15 for a table of department store gift cards. The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection put this data together and it is an excellent resource concerning gift cards.

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