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Redeeming Gift Cards Online? 3 Legal Reminders

Ready to redeem your Christmas gift cards and e-certificates online?

You're definitely not alone. A survey by the National Retail Federation found 57.7% of shoppers wanted a gift card for Christmas this year -- the highest in the survey's history. (Here's hoping you got what you wanted!)

But did you know the law offers some protections for the money on your gift cards? And there are other legal considerations as well when redeeming your gift cards online.

Here are three legal issues to keep in mind:

1. Money on your gift card is good for five years.

You have time to carefully consider what to get with your gift card, thanks to a federal law. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, known as the Credit CARD Act, requires the money on your gift card to be good for at least five years from the date of purchase. If any money is added to your gift card later, that money must also be good for five years, according to The Washington Post.

2. Read the fine print.

Still, you may not want to wait too long before redeeming your gift card. Some gift cards charge "dormancy fees" if your card sits unused -- but thanks to the Credit CARD Act, a card must be unused for at least one full year before a dormancy fee can kick in.

Then there's the clickwrap license, or click-through agreement -- that screenful of legal language that requires you to click "Agree" to complete your purchase. A recent FindLaw survey found more than half of consumers either quickly read, skim, or plain ignore those agreements. That may be to your detriment, as you're usually agreeing to give up some of your rights to sue.

3. Be familiar with delivery rules.

The Federal Trade Commission enforces rules about online shopping shipments. For example, if a retailer did not specify a shipment date, the FTC's default rule requires shipment within 30 days. Retailers must also notify customers about delays, and must get a customer's written consent for indefinite delays. Otherwise, a retailer must refund your money.

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