Kwame Kuadey, an MBA graduate from Johns Hopkins University, founded GiftCardRescue.com last year. His site buys 150 or so types of store cards for 65 percent to 80 percent of their value, depending on demand.

This year movie theater gift cards, seen now as a luxury, and specialty retailers, such as Ann Taylor, aren't selling as well and receive a lower price, he says. But mass merchandisers, such as Walmart and Target, and general purpose cards are hot.

"Those cards fly off the shelf," he says.

Once Kuadey receives a card, he verifies the value and sends a check to the seller. Or, the seller can choose another card from the site or swap it for an Amazon gift card.

Buyers, on the other hand, can purchase a card at a discount of 10 percent to 30 percent, with the least desirable cards discounted the most.

Plasticjungle.com in California operates in a similar fashion, buying store cards for as much as 90 percent of their value and selling them at a discount of 3 percent to 40 percent.

The site also allows you to donate a gift card to more than 25 participating charities, says Bruce Bower, president of marketing for Plastic Jungle. You get a receipt for the amount the site paid for the card to use for tax purposes, and the site forwards the money to the charity.

Why would anyone sell a card for less than its value?

It could be the recipient doesn't patronize the store or can't find anything to buy there, Bower says. Also, some retailers offer refunds only in the form of a gift card, and consumers might not feel like going back to the store, he says

And some people just want the cash.

The best time to buy gift cards on exchanges is the last week in December, when people are eager to get rid of cards they just received, says Dan de Grandpre, co-founder of dealnews.com, an online source for bargains.

- Baltimore Sun