Editor’s Note: The following is a collaborative answer from attorneys of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service.
Q. I gave my son-in-law a gift certificate to a big well-known online business. It was sent to him by e-mail, I got the confirmation, and it was charged on my credit card. He forgot about it for a few months, and then went to use it, and they said it was expired. That doesn’t seem right — my money to them didn’t expire! Is this illegal?
A. If he is a Maine resident, then yes, it is illegal. Maine law forbids expiration dates on gift cards. Write to the online business — don’t just call — and explain that Maine law does not allow expiration of gift cards. Say you intend to file a complaint with the Maine attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission, and if they do not reinstate the card in 30 days, file your complaints. A few pointers:
• Always keep copies of your letters, e-mails and complaints.
• When you talk to a representative of the business, take notes of what you say and what the representative says.
• Don’t be a paper tiger. If you say you will file a complaint in 30 days, do it.
• When you talk to someone at a government office, take notes.
• Do not under any circumstances take no for an answer.
• Be persistent.
What should you do if your son-in-law lives in another state? Maine law may not apply if he is in Missouri, for example. Contact a legal resource where he lives.
It is worth noting that in February 2010 federal law will step in and overrule state laws that do not adequately protect consumers. The federal law is still being written, so we do not know what it will be. But don’t wait for that. Get started now.
This column is a service of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Its contents are a general response to the question and do not constitute legal advice. Questions are welcome. E-mail AAL@mainebar.org, describe your question and note you are a BDN reader. Written questions mailed to “Ask a Lawyer,” Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, Maine, 04402-1329, will be forwarded to the LRIS.