How to legally buy and sell gift cards

Richard Levine / Getty Images

This story is part of 2021 Holiday Gift Guide, our list of ideas, by theme, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the ideal gift.

Part of the popularity of gift cards is that you can buy them virtually anywhere. You can find them at retailers, grocery stores, restaurants, and sites like Amazon.

But their wide availability also comes with some dangers, and gift card scams are common. While the above methods of acquiring gift cards are safe (since cards are activated at checkout), you should always avoid any website that masquerades as a “gift code generator” or something like that. It is a misrepresentation and a phishing tactic. But there are third-party gift card websites offering to buy and sell to consumers – and this is where it gets tough.

Gift card arbitrators act as an intermediary by allowing you to buy and sell gift cards online or send them to others. Cards can even be partially used, and you do it all from the comfort of your couch. But it’s important to be careful with which service you choose, as there isn’t comprehensive consumer protection for gift card transactions. Unlike unauthorized charges on your credit card, any money you lose on a gift card is usually lost for good.

To protect yourself, here is some information that will help you avoid harmful activity when transacting gift cards online. So before you finish your holiday shopping or look to return unwanted gift cards you’ve received, find out how you can save money and protect it and your identity.

Read more: Are you the victim of a scam? Here’s how to know and what to do

A turbulent history of gift card companies

First of all, a bit of history. Many gift card and arbitrage companies have experienced financial difficulties and have closed their doors in recent years. In some cases, like that of The Plastic Merchant, many customers have found themselves with unfinished transactions and lost their money permanently when the company officially declared bankruptcy in 2019. Much mystery surrounded the ordeal, but not much could be done without consumer protections in place to protect gift card customers. Even the Attorney General of Missouri refused to intervene.

Then there is the BlackHawk network, which handles most of the “gift cards”. Know those physical gift cards on sale at your local grocery store, maybe near the checkout? BlackHawk Network is responsible for this integration, a concept he launched in 2001. Since then, the company has had an impressive history of acquiring gift card exchange websites and selling gift cards, but its overall track record is unequal. Over the past few years, BlackHawk has left a trail of missing gift card websites including CashStar, CardPool, and Gift Card Lab, and its remaining sites including and GiftCardMall are not fully updated. BlackHawk’s level of investment in these remaining websites appears low, and whether their clients will see the fate of Cardpool or The Plastic Merchant remains questionable.

The gift card lab is closed

Gift Card Lab / Screenshot by Jaclyn DeJohn / CNET

Buy a gift card with CardCash

Operated by its founders since 2009, CardCash is free from the scourges plaguing the BlackHawk network. CardCash is best when you are buying for yourself and want extra savings: you can buy partially used or unused gift cards for amounts over $ 10. The interface is intuitive and tells you the percentage you’ll save on each discounted gift card. For example, I saved 1.8% of the value of a $ 25 Home Depot e-gift card by paying $ 24.55 for the value of $ 25. Just be aware that once you’ve added a product to your cart, you have 20 minutes to verify or your selection may not be reserved.

CardCash offers a 45-day money-back guarantee on all purchases in the event of a problem with the value of the gift card. You also have the option to pay with BitPay. When I finalized the purchase I was informed that it would take up to 24 hours for my gift card to arrive in my inbox, but I received it almost immediately. The gift card itself came in the form of an email attachment.

Buy a gift card via Gift Card Granny

Gift Card Granny has some features that other gift card providers lack. For one thing, you can check in as a guest rather than recording all your information (which you can’t do with CardCash). And although you are more limited in the denominations of gift cards with Gift Card Granny, you have the option of giving e-gift cards to people, much like buying through the retailer’s website itself.

But unlike CardCash, the savings don’t come immediately. You earn cash on your purchases, but you must create an account to collect it. But that’s not all: you need to earn a minimum of $ 5 in cash to redeem them for gift cards, and a minimum of $ 10 to redeem them for cash. Unless you find yourself buying gift cards frequently or at high prices, this isn’t a great way to save.

Safety, however, is a plus here. When I received the e-gift card, I had to click on my email to go to the Gift Card Granny website and enter my email address to retrieve the gift code. This is to prevent hackers from accessing your gift card through your email. Granny Gift Card also has a “100% Lifetime Guarantee” on its gift cards. The site claims that you will never have to worry about your purchased gift card losing value or expiring, but the wording is vague.

Selling a gift card to CardCash

Selling through CardCash is your best and most convenient option for selling a gift card online. You enter the brand and amount of your gift card, and the gift card makes you an offer. For my $ 25 Home Depot gift card, he offered me $ 22. I even had the option of getting offers for multiple gift cards at the same time. My refund choices were direct deposit (ACH payment), PayPal Express, or a postal check. I opted for direct deposit, and although I had to hand over my bank account information, I also had to give my credit card information to place a temporary $ 1 verification fee for the security of CardCash .

Remember not to dispose of your gift card right after completing your transaction, as it could take up to a day to verify that your gift card is valid. Having said that, I received an email stating that my order was accepted less than half an hour later. CardCash also said to allow 1-2 business days for my money to show up in my bank account, but I had my $ 22 the next day.

Sell ​​a gift card in store

It’s safe to buy retail gift cards direct from retailers, but what about reselling them? Most retailers will accept a return of a gift card if you have the receipt and the gift card has not been used. However, not many people will accept a used gift card. In some cases, state law may allow you to exchange gift cards with small amounts on them for cash, depending on the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In California, you can usually redeem a gift card from the retailer for cash if they have $ 10 or less left. If there is $ 5 or less left on your gift card, you can usually exchange it for cash value in Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Puerto Rico, and Washington . And if there’s $ 1 or less left, you can usually exchange it for cash in Rhode Island and Vermont.


Purchase: If you are looking to purchase a gift card, I recommend purchasing it from the online retailer or third party store. But if you are looking for a discount, use CardCash. If you are trying to send a gift card to someone else, Gift Card Granny is a good bet. Remember that buying a gift card is always risky, and the faster you use your card, the less likely you will end up with a gift card from a former intermediary.

Sale: If you are looking to sell a gift card, CardCash offers the highest level of convenience and service. Typically, retailers will also accept returns on unused gift cards if you have the receipt. Alternatively, you can redeem gift cards that are less than $ 10, $ 5, or even $ 1 in cash from the merchants themselves, depending on state law.

Michael N. Clark