Staff at Monmouth County Consumer Affairs offers advice 

FREEHOLD, NJ – Credit cards and gift certificates are the gift of choice for many people during the holiday season. If you will be purchasing a gift card or planning to redeem one, the Monmouth County Division of Consumer Affairs has some timely reminders to help you make the best use of your holiday dollars this season: 

  • Redeem your gift card or gift certificate as soon as possible. Gift cards and gift certificates are valid for at least five years after purchase, but after one year a retailer may charge an inactivity fee. 
  • Be sure to read the fine print before you purchase a gift card. Ask if there is an activation or shipping-and-handling fee. Also, some gift cards may not be used to purchase items online. It can make a big difference in how someone redeems your gift. 
  • If you are purchasing a gift card online, be wary of online auction sites. The cards may have been obtained fraudulently or may be counterfeit. Check each site’s terms and conditions. If you do not like what you read, buy elsewhere.
  • If you find yourself with a gift card or gift certificate for a company or retailer that is no longer in business, remember that a new business owner is not obligated to honor the gift card you purchased from the previous owner. If you find yourself in this situation, contact the Monmouth County Division of Consumer Affairs for assistance.

“Many consumers contact us to say a favorite restaurant or nail salon is under new ownership, and they can’t use their gift certificate,” said Annmarie Howley, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Or, they may find that the furniture store where they recently placed an order is now empty.”  The Consumer Affairs staff may be able to provide assistance and help consumers resolve all sorts of consumer-related issues.”

Additional information about consumer affairs programs can be found on the County website at www.visitmonmouth.com or by calling 732-431-7900. The office is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Consumer Affairs Division is a law enforcement agency, created and funded by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders. It protects against consumer fraud and dishonest and unscrupulous business practices by enforcing the state Consumer Fraud Act and other regulations.

“Beyond the winter holidays, the Consumer Affairs staff is available to assist consumers who believe they may have been a victim of fraud or unfair business practices,” Howley said. 

“The County’s Consumer Affairs office enforces consumer laws and helps people whether violations are present or not,” said Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, liaison to the Division.  “This year, the division has recovered over two million dollars for consumers. This is one of the many important ways the county is able to assist residents.”

The County’s Division of Consumer Affairs was established in 1977. So far, the division has handled more than 50,000 complaints and resolved disputes, resulting in savings to consumers of more than $13 million.

Mediation includes letters, telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and informal conferences with businesses. If a business is uncooperative and does not appear as scheduled, the division has the authority to subpoena, a function coordinated with the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

Consumer Affairs also maintains a “complaint history” on all reported businesses, which can be helpful to consumers who are considering an agreement or transaction with a local business.

“If there is an active file, the information may be very valuable,” Howley said.