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What do you do with a gift card after a business fails?

My husband bought me a gift card to Northwest Outdoor Store. When we went to use it, we noticed paper in the windows. We called, but the phone was disconnected. Is there any way to get the money on the gift card back?

— Diana

We haven’t been able to reach anyone from the Northwest Outdoor Store since its demise to see whether there’s any recourse for you, Diana.

But the Better Business Bureau and financial advisors have some words of advice for those who find themselves holding now-useless gift cards.

If a gift card was purchased with a credit card, your credit card company may be able to cover the loss for you.

When a business goes bankrupt, creditors must file claims in order to be paid with any remaining assets. Gift-card holders have to get in line with other creditors and hope they someday get reimbursed, although that’s unlikely.

However, a business may emerge from bankruptcy proceedings, and gift cards could again be used at surviving stores.

Before buying a gift card, consider the company’s financial condition and make sure there are no fees associated with using the card. If you decide to go forward with a purchase, use a credit card.

When giving a gift card to someone, make sure protective stickers haven’t been removed and that the card hasn’t been scratched to reveal a PIN number. Give the recipient the receipt.

If you receive a gift card, use it as quickly as possible before you lose it, forget you have it or the business closes.

According to the advisory company CEB TowerGroup, $1 billion worth of value on gift cards goes unspent by Americans each year.

Although federal law protects consumers with a minimum five-year expiration date on gift cards, only half of small businesses are still operating after five years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.