Disappearing-Card Trick

Gift cards, one of the most popular holiday purchases, can lose value if not used quickly

After Arlene Vinson's favorite boutique in her hometown of Brea, Calif., went out of business a few years ago, her husband Norman--perplexed about what to give her for Christmas--decided that about 20 of the $50 bank-issued gift cards sold at their neighborhood mall would be the ideal gift; she could redeem them at any store in the shopping center. But nearly six months later, when Arlene tried to buy a $20.50 blouse with $2.50 in cash plus a gift card with $18 of unspent credit, the sales clerk said it couldn't be done, citing a fine-print rule on the back of...

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