Personal Finance

March 21, 2014

A birthday present gone awry is a gift card lesson

Even with a sales receipt in hand, it’s hard to get satisfaction if the gift card you purchased is lost or stolen.

Talk about an impulse purchase gone bad.

That’s the polite way of describing my recent shopping experience after buying a $50 Amazon gift card for my nephew, Charlie, who was turning 6.

The easiest thing would have been to order the gift card on Amazon’s website. Instead, while waiting to pay for a birthday card at a local pharmacy I saw a display near the cash register that included Amazon gift cards.

On the spur of the moment I picked one out that had a toy design, and the next day I put the gift card and the birthday greeting in an envelope and sent it to California.

What happened next? All I know is that the gift never made it, not even the birthday card. Only the empty envelope. Bummer.

While many retailers have card registration services and other policies in place to help gift card recipients replace cards that have been lost or stolen, it’s a different story if you’ve spend the money to buy one and something goes awry.

After hearing that my gift never made it, I took a deep breath, called my bank and reported that the merchandise purchased with my credit card had vanished. I requested that the $50 charge be revoked. This is one of the advantages of using a credit card, right? You’re protected.

Well, not quite. In situations like mine, you’re protected only against fraud, not for merchandise lost or possibly stolen in the mail, according to the two bank customer service representatives I spoke with. Since I had paid for the gift card and walked out of the store with product in hand, no fraud had been committed and there was nothing the bank could do.

Next, I turned to Amazon, figuring the retailer could unleash sophisticated tracking technology to determine whether the $50 had already been spent and either replace the plastic or make my bank account whole. I emailed the customer service department explaining my problem and read Amazon’s long “gift card terms and conditions” online several times over.

I also spoke with a sympathetic customer service rep and sent her proof of purchase information that included the date and time of purchase, the store name and address, the gift card amount and the last four digits of the card activation number.

But in each instance, Amazon’s answer was firm: Since the card had been bought in a store and not directly through Amazon, the company was unable to help.

The last resort was to revisit the drugstore with receipt in hand, but I didn’t get what I wanted there either. Fraud, yes, we can help you. Lost or stolen, you’re out of luck.

Since I hadn’t insured the contents, I didn’t bother contacting the U.S. Postal Service.

After exhausting all channels, I still had a birthday gift to buy. This time I bought an Amazon card directly from the website, which offered free shipping and 24-hour delivery.

The lesson I learned from this experience: To best safeguard your gift card purchase, especially if it requires mailing, you’re better off ordering online from the retailer.

Keep that in mind as graduation season comes around and you’re thinking of buying a gift card. At least now you’ll know what not to do.

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