As I sit down on the 4th of July to write this week’s column, I am deeply humbled by what the founding fathers of this country have created for us. Yet every day we are giving away our freedoms by electing people who willingly usurp our rights for what they say is “the common good.” The latest instance is the taking of unused gift cards by state legislatures.
Some of you may be aware that states have previously established the right to confiscate unclaimed bank accounts. There was a rationalization that if the account was unclaimed, somehow it should become the state’s property as opposed to the bank’s property. This included safe deposit boxes, which soon provided a fountain of horror stories. People came forth who had innocently maintained their safe deposit boxes at banks without ever moving their residence. They would find out that states, in their never-ending thirst for funds, had sold their heirloom jewelry or stock certificates.
The state governments have now extended this taking of personal property to gift cards. The explosion in use of gift cards has been a fascinating cultural phenomenon. Annually $65 billion of the cards are sold. Americans have gotten sick of receiving useless gifts for Christmas, birthdays or graduation. Some of us are just lazy about gift giving, so the advent of gift cards has been a panacea. No more do people have to receive mystery gifts or stand in line to return an ugly tie or a third Crockpot. Gift cards are all about personal choice -- a basic American value.
Leave it to our elected officials to put the kibosh on personal freedom. Just because someone gets a gift card does not mean they run to the store to use it the very next day. An estimated $6.8 billion in gift cards per year go unused. However, some of us make sure that doesn’t happen. In my house, when one of my kids gets a gift card, it goes in my nightstand drawer and I drive them crazy until it is used. Often I will buy it from them so I make sure it is used. The last thing we want to happen is for the card to get lost or go unused and lose the value of someone’s generous gift.
Some of these gift cards have expiration dates. At first glance, that would seem to be ridiculous. The retailer has to keep track of these cards in their computer system. It seems reasonable that after a period of time they would be considered lost if unused. The period of time may be up for debate, but a reasonable consumer would not expect the cards to be held open indefinitely.