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by Everett Chinn

Gift card purchases are expected to fall this season for the first time in six years, but the plastic still will be the most requested item, experts say.

Gift card sales are expected to fall to $24.9 billion this holiday season from $26.3 billion last year, the National Retail Federation estimates. But the trade group’s survey found 55 percent of consumers want gift cards making them the most sought after holiday item.

Experts blame the shift on a tough economy where Americans are being more frugal amid increased layoffs and other economic uncertainty.

“I am definitely spending less money this year on gifts than previous years,” said Latanza Atkins, 36, of Madison.

“I for one am still going to provide gifts for my family,” she said. “What mother would not want to make her kids happy? It’s more a matter of priority.”

And Atkins said she still plans on sending gift cards out to relatives and co-workers.

Experts warn consumers to be careful with the types of cards they purchase.

At a time when some retailers are filing bankruptcy or shutting down, some gift cards present an additional risk.

Kathy Grannis said many retailers that have closed their brick-and-mortar locations are accepting gift cards at their online stores.

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