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A prepaid card is just like a credit or a debit card in the way it looks. It has a card number, a company that issues it and even the signature strip. But the similarities almost end here and the differences begin; the first of the differences being that it comes pre-loaded with money. A prepaid card cannot be used as a credit card as it It is different from a debit card as it is not linked to any bank account and overdraft facilities are hence not available with these cards.
There are three types of prepaid cards:
Open looped cards:- These are also known as open system cards or network branded prepaid cards. These are issued by banks and bear logos of the issuer e.g. Visa, American Express, etc. These cards are accepted and processed at any location that is approved by the banks.
Closed loop cards:- In this type of cards, the acceptance is specific to location and mostly issued by merchants for the purchase of goods or service at their outlet. Examples of such cards are gift cards.
Semi-open looped cards:- Also known as hybrid cards, these are accepted by a wider range of merchants. Examples of such cards are the ones issued by shopping malls or retail chains operating at various locations.
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A gift card may resemble a credit card or display a specific theme on a plastic card the size of a credit card. The card is identified by a specific number or code, not usually with an individual name, and thus could be used by anybody. They are backed by an online electronic system for authorization. Some gift cards can be reloaded by payment and can be used thus multiple times.
Cards may have a barcode or magnetic strips, which is read by an electronic credit card machine. Many cards have no value until they are sold, at which time the cashier enters the amount which the customer wishes to put on the card. This amount is rarely stored on the card but is instead noted in the store's database, which is crosslinked to the card ID. Gift cards thus are generally not stored value cards as used in many public transport systems or library photocopiers, where a simplified system (with no network) stores the value only on the card itself.
Gift cards can also be custom tailored to meet specific needs. By adding a custom message or name on the front of the card, it can make for an individualized gift or incentive to an employee to show how great they are appreciated.
Virtual gift cards are delivered via e-mail to the recipient, the benefits being that they cannot be lost and that the consumer does not have to drive to the bricks and mortar location to purchase a gift card.
Other companies have introduced virtual gift cards that users redeem on their smartphones. As the merchant is not involved in the loop, it is considered a cash transfer rather than a traditional gift card.