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Gift cards and the Consumer Protection Act

It’s Thursday night.  While updating your wardrobe at your favourite store, you suddenly remember that Saturday is your sister-in-law’s birthday and you completely forgot to buy her a gift. You decide it would be the perfect time to use the gift card at the bath salts specialty store that you received a few months ago from her…. With a smile, you execute your plan.  After selecting a gift basket and handing over the gift card at the cash register to pay, you get an unpleasant surprise as the cashier gives you back the card, rolls her eyes, and points at the expiration date written on the back.  You ask yourself, will you really have to spend money from your own pocket on your sister in law?

The purchase of a gift card

Before concluding the sale of a prepaid gift card, the merchant must inform the consumer of the conditions of use as well as how to validate the remaining balance.

When this information is not found on the card itself, the merchant must provide it in writing to the consumer[1].

Expiration date

The law prohibits a merchant from providing an expiration date on a prepaid gift card exchangeable against a specific good or service[2].  The amount that has been paid to obtain the card can never be “lost”.

The gift card from your sister in law had a 50$ value and you never used it?  Even if the specialty store has increased its prices, the gift card will retain the same value.

This rule has been in effect since June 30th, 2010.  Therefore, if you have a card that expired on or after that date, the inscription is not valid and you may still use it.

Beware! A gift card that provides unlimited[3] use of a service during a specific time-frame may have an expiry date. The same exception is applicable for the tourism industry, but only for expiration dates between July 4th, 2013, and December 31st, 2015[4], after which expiration dates will no longer be valid.

Finally, prepaid cards for cell phones may have an expiration date, but not ones pertaining to long-distance phone calls[5].

Surcharge required

A merchant may reserve the right to apply a surcharge for a good or service after a specific date.  This information must be written on the gift card[6]. For example, a gift card in a store may stipulate that, for a given package, the merchant may claim an additional charge of 10$ if the card is used two years after its purchase date.

You have the right to bring your famous bath salt merchant to order.  They must honor the gift card, and give you 50$ worth of bath salts.  Your sister in law is in great need of them!

[1] Loi sur la protection du consommateur, LRQ, c. P-40.1, article 187.2.

[2] Ibid., article 187.3.

[3] Idem.

[4] Règlement d’application de la Loi sur la protection du consommateur, RLRQ, c. P-40.1, r. 3, article 79.3.1.

[5] Ibid., article 79.1.

[6] Ibid., article 79.2.

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