Reporter:Jonathan Creek

They are the get out of jail gift, the perfect present for the hard to buy for. Retailers, hardware stores, bookshops, even cinemas, all sell them and we buy them up, spending $1.5 billion on gift cards every year -- the majority this month in the lead up to Christmas.

But amazingly around 25% remains unclaimed. To the Retailers that's $400 million in free money, so no wonder they have Gift cards on every counter.

Half of the unclaimed money is a result of the recipients miscalculating the 'use by date' of the expiry. To avoid that let down or even buying a gift you don't really want, Fergus Koochew from website Card Limbo says you can sell them, or even pick up discounted cards, close top expiry. "We buy back unwanted gift cards for cash from consumers", Fergus said.Often it is a case of the closer the use by the date, the bigger the bargain. Who wouldn't want $250 dollars to spend at Dymocks for just $212; or $300 at Just Jeans for $252 -- that's a 16% saving.

A site like Card Limbo could've saved business owner Sharon Krahl from a hidden Christmas Grinch. She purchased $1400 in pre-paid Visa Gift Cards to hand to loyal customers. "I bought the cards from a post office and I literally just picked up a pile of cards all at the same time. When I checked one I assumed that all of the expiry dates would be the same",Sharonsaid.

They weren't. Some of the cards were valid for six months, others just 3 months. Given the confusion,Sharonrequested a refund or extension but was denied. "There's got to be something done where it is generic from the date of purchase, not from the date that they've printed those cards",Sharonsaid.

Customer service worker Erica Podporin received a Westfield Gift Card for an engagement present. But even four days was too late to redeem its value. "The worst part was that our friends had spent their hard earned money getting us aWestfieldvoucher and we've not being able to use it for our engagement", Erica said

Most businesses we contacted give two years to exchange a gift card, except for Bunnings, where there's no expiry. Westfieldwas the only ones to charge a fee, on a card that is only valid for 12 months. "I think it Is a matter of the buyer being very careful to ensure that a. they know what the terms of conditions are and b. to ensure when they give the card they tell the person they are giving it to actually how long the expiry date is on that card", said Russell Zimmerman from the Retailers Association.

He still believes gift cards are a saviour, come Christmas. "I do believe it is good for both the industry and for the consumer, retailers are doing it to ensure that their business model and their business increases", Russell said.But inVictoria, the State Government is launching an inquiry into the terms and conditions that control gift cards. Gerrard Brody from the Consumer Action Law Centre believes we need only look to theU.S.for a fairer system -- there cards must be valid for a minimum five years. "It's quite surprising that such a large amount of money doesn't get cashed in on gift cards but then again, we also see some restrictive terms and conditions on gift cards that may be contributing to that", Gerrard said.

And his advice to anyone who gets a gift card this Christmas -- to be safe, spend it quick. "The quicker they use it the more likely they are going to benefit from it", Gerrard said.

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