Skip to main content
Iowa Attorney General
Main Content

Gift Cards & Gift Certificates

Did you receive a gift card for the holidays or are you thinking of giving a gift card to someone special? Keep these tips in mind before giving or using gift cards and retail gift certificates:

  • Retail gift cards can be used only with the issuing merchant.
  • Bank gift cards are issued by a bank or financial institution (through the Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover networks), and can be used wherever the network’s credit cards or debit cards are accepted.
  • Retail gift certificates are issued by a merchant for goods or services with that merchant.  They’re generally issued on paper, as opposed to a card, and they entitle the recipient to goods or services.

Retail Gift Cards
Retail gift cards must clearly disclose their expiration dates, and the card or packaging must clearly disclose any fees. You cannot be charged inactivity or service fees (for cards purchased after August 22, 2010) unless the card has not been used for at least a year, and then you can be charged only once per month. Cards cannot expire for at least five years from the purchase date, or from the last date any additional funds were added to the card (for cards purchased after August 22, 2010). If the expiration date listed on the card is earlier than these dates, the money can be transferred to a replacement card at no cost. You may be charged a fee to buy the card and to replace one that has been lost or stolen.

Buying a Gift Card
Buy from a trusted source. Use caution when ordering cards through online gift card resellers, as they could have been already used, fraudulently obtained or may be counterfeit. Read the fine print and look for fees, including any costs to purchase the card, as well as any shipping and handling fees if you order the card through a website or by phone. Look for an expiration date. If you’re buying the card as a gift, include the original receipt in case the card is lost or stolen. And make sure that the protective stickers have not been removed or scratched off to reveal a card’s Personal Identification Number (PIN).

Using a Gift Card
Be sure you understand the terms, including any fees and the expiration date. Ask the person who gave it to you for the receipt in case you ever need a replacement card. Some retailers may not issue replacement cards, but others might with proof of purchase (they might charge a replacement fee).

We recommend that you use a gift card or certificate as soon as possible. You’ll minimize the chances of losing it, and you’ll limit the chances of someone else using it if they somehow obtained the card number.

Free Gift Card?
Be very wary of emails, text messages, messages through social media, or regular mail, claiming you won a gift card. Be wary if you’re required to provide personal information or pay a small “activation fee.” You should not pay for something that’s free, and you should not provide any personal information. If it’s an electronic message, it may urge you to click a link. Be careful, as that link could infect your device with a virus.

Retail businesses can close without warning, leaving consumers with a worthless card or certificate.  Keep that in mind when using gift certificates and gift cards.

If you have a problem using the card, first try to contact the card issuer to see if you can resolve the issue.

If you have a dispute regarding a retail gift card, you can file a complaint with our Consumer Protection Division ( or 515-281-5926 or, toll-free at 888-777-4590) or the Federal Trade Commission ( or toll-free at 877-FTC-HELP).

For gift cards issued by national banks, contact the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC) Customer Assistance Group by calling 800-613-6743 or sending an e-mail to:

The OCC charters, regulates, and supervises national banks.

Quick Exit
© 2022 State of Iowa Office of the Attorney General. All rights reserved.