Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Careful with those gift cards

I was in the grocery store this weekend and saw a rack of gift cards for sale -- some for The Sharper Image.

But wait! Buying them isn't so sharp.

That's because The Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy and their gift cards are technically worthless, considered as unsecured debt which is way down the pecking order as far as bankruptcy courts are concerned. With the prospect bankruptcy looming over many retailers, this is a major worry.

And then there's the problem of gift cards having expiration dates, often one year from the date of sale (which the recipient rarely knows).

California nailed that door shut by forbidding expiration dates -- something the inept-and/or-corrupt Wisconsin legislature hasn't done.

No matter how you slice it or dice it, it's stealing when companies aren't compelled to honor the gift cards. The laws need changing to require gift card funds to be segregated into a trust fund so that they money can't be used by a retailer until the gift cards are used and, like the currency they represent, they should be nonexpiring.

But don't look for that to happen because, as we know, lawmakers respond to those who grease their skids and that means consumers are on the outside looking in.

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