The state Office of Consumer Protection offered tips for shoppers heading into the holiday gift-buying season on gift cards and return policies.
"We are here to help the public if they find a store's policy is inconsistent with state law," Office of Consumer Protection Executive Director Bruce Kim said. "There are millions of dollars being spent in these weeks before the end of the year, and we want to make sure that Hawaii consumers have the information they need to make sound buying decisions and are treated fairly under the law."
Regarding gift certificates, there are minimum expiration periods. Shoppers are advised to keep their receipts for gift card purchases. The receipt should confirm the amount of the gift card as well as its date of issuance.
* The date of issuance and the expiration date must be clearly identified on the face of the gift certificate, or on a gift card with a banked dollar value, clearly printed on a sales receipt given to the customer at the completion of the purchase.
* Gift certificates in paper form are good for a minimum of two years from the date of purchase.
* If there is no clear expiration date on the front of the certificate, it is valid into perpetuity.
* If the gift certificate is sold as a card, it must be good for no less than five years from the date of purchase.
* Issuers, such as stores, shops and restaurants that sell gift certificates, may charge an activation or issuance fee. These fees cannot exceed the lesser of 10 percent of the face value of the card or certificate or $5. Issuers cannot charge fees for dormancy or inactivity.
When it comes to returning merchandise, shoppers are advised to be sure they understand the merchant's policy before buying.
Merchants may establish one of four return policies:
* Refunds only.
* Refunds or merchandise credit only.
* Exchanges or merchandise credit only.
* No refunds, merchandise credits or exchanges.
Stores may have their own return policies, but their policies must be posted in conspicuous locations that are easy to find and to read before a purchase is made. If there are no conspicuous signs, state law requires merchants to accept the return of goods and to provide a refund.
Merchandise credits must be good for a minimum of two years from the date issued.
Buyers need to be aware that there could be special provisions or exclusions for specific types of merchandise, such as custom/special ordered goods, clearance and sale goods, holiday wear or seasonal items.
If consumers have questions or if they wish to file a complaint, they may call the Consumer Resource Center on Maui at 984-2400 and enter the five-digit extension code 73222 or on Molokai and Lanai at (800) 468-4644 and enter five-digit extension code 73222.
Consumers also may email the Office of Consumer Protection at email@example.com.