Zero Balance: What to Do If You Encounter Gift Card Problems
By Consumers Union on Friday, January 2nd, 2015
After the holidays, people everywhere are eager to spend the gift cards they received from friends and family. However, some consumers may get a nasty shock in the checkout lane: the gift cards they expected to be loaded with cash turn out to be empty.
Empty gift cards were a big problem in 2014; thankfully, we haven’t heard yet from consumers who’ve experienced zero balance this year, but just in case, here’s what you need to know if you go to use a gift card and find that it has zero balance:
- First, check the gift card’s balance and account history online. The gift card should have a website or phone number where you can check the gift card balance. If you do so and find that the balance listed is accurate, try using the card again, after you register the card. (Most gift card websites let you do this, and you want to because that usually ensures greater protections for your card’s balance.) Your past problem redeeming the card may have been a one-time point of sale system bug;
- If you still have a problem, contact the retailer where the card was purchased for help. Bring the purchase receipt with you if you have it. (We urge everyone who gives a gift card to include the receipt.) The retailer should help you, but if you can’t get the problem solved, you will want to go to the next step;
- File a complaint with the CFPB. You can complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by clicking http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/#credit-card (yes, the URL says credit card, but the CFPB lumps gift cards with prepaid and credit cards, so this is the correct link);
- Complain to the FTC or OCC. For store gift cards, complain to the Federal Trade Commission via the website https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. For general purpose gift cards – ones with Visa, American Express, Discover or MasterCard logos – complain to the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) Customer Assistance Group by calling 800-613-6743 or sending an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, gift cards do not have federal law protections against not working , but many retailers will fix problems for consumers who register their gift cards, so be sure to do so. For more on gift cards, see our gift card tips.
Gift card problem? We want to hear about it. Please share your story in the comments.