received an invalid gift card
December 1, 2013 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I received an invalid gift card as a present and I'm not sure what I should do, if anything.

A couple I am friends with gave me a gift card to a department store for my birthday. This mirrors previous years where they gave $50 gift cards. I went to check the balance on the card today and it came back invalid. This couple just bought a house with ALL of their savings, so I sort of feel like asking about it would be...not polite? IS there any chance of success trying to work this out with the store? (its Saks and I'm pretty sure I know which location they got the card from). Or should I just let it go?
posted by WeekendJen to Grab Bag (27 answers total)
It seems tremendously unlikely that your friends deliberately gave you an invalid card because they couldn't afford to actually activate it, so I wouldn't even consider not dealing with it with them. To avoid dealing with it suggests you think your friends are kind of terrible people. Or possibly you're worried they'll think you spent it and are coming back to the trough for another? In which case, you think they think you're a terrible person, which is not much of an improvement.

So, sure, call the store first and see if there's anything you can do, but when it almost inevitably turns out that they can't do anything, call your generous friends and let them know there was an issue with the card. Gift cards usually come with receipts and activation codes and whatnot for a reason.

That said, if you just got the card today and checked the balance today, wait until Monday to deal with it -- gift cards often take some time to wend their way through computer systems to activate, and if they just bought it on a holiday weekend, that time might not have elapsed yet.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:52 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd also mention it to them because it's possible they bought it somewhere other than Saks. For example, you can buy gift cards on Ebay, and if that were the case, they'd definitely want to know so that they wouldn't use the same vendor again.
posted by taz at 6:53 AM on December 1, 2013 [12 favorites]

There's a decent chance of getting this fixed at the store, particularly at a high-end one, and especially if you happen to run into a nice employee (could even try a few different people).
posted by Behemoth at 6:54 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would approach this as wanting them to know that they were charged for something they did not receive (ie, they paid $50 for a gift card that has no value on it), if I mentioned it at all. There are only a few people who give me gifts with any regularity and all of them are people I would feel comfortable having the conversation with--because I would trust that we all understood it was not about my being able to spend $50 of someone else's money at Saks, but about their having paid for a gift card they did not get.

If I thought the conversation would more be interpreted as lack of gratitude on my part, I'd let it go.

In any event, I would, of course (which I am sure you did) start with "Thanks so much for the gift."
posted by crush-onastick at 6:54 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would let it go. Sadly if they paid and it didn't go through then that's a waste of money but all of the other alternatives just seem too awkward to me.
posted by bquarters at 6:58 AM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would try at the store so as not to bother your friends.

But it's more likely that something went wrong with the card than your friends knowingly gave you an invalid card. I think if I were your friends I'd want to know about it - they have paid good money, and they would want you to have the benefit of that, not the store or some intermediary.
posted by pianissimo at 7:06 AM on December 1, 2013

This happened to me for a gift card I gave to a teacher as a thank you. They told me it had no value when they went to use it. I never took it as an assumption that they wanted me to replace it (although I did right away). Unfortunately, the little receipt they give you had been thrown away and not left with it so there was no proof. Apparently it was somehow not activated at the store when I bought several at the same time. I did take it back to the store where they basically told me it was my problem and they could not do anything about it.

Lesson learned: keep the little activation receipt, especially for a high priced card.
posted by maxg94 at 7:19 AM on December 1, 2013

Response by poster: I DO believe they gave me what they thought was a valid card. My hesitation in telling them about it is more about not causing undue stress at what I know is a stressful time for them. They feel sort of broke and bureaucratically over-processed as they just closed on the home (their first) less than a month ago.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:28 AM on December 1, 2013

I think generally in this case, "just having closed on your house" is not the sort of stressful time where being asked by a friend to deal with a shopkeeper error to ensure that you got what you paid for is not an undue burden.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:37 AM on December 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't want a gift card I gave to a friend to go unused because of an error that he didn't bring to my attention. Your friends gave you the card because they want you to use it. Tell them about the error.
posted by xingcat at 7:39 AM on December 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Since you feel that the error is not on the couple's part, I think it's worth talking to them. After all, if they're tight on money, I feel like it's fair to assume that if they paid $50 for your gift, they wouldn't want that money to have disappeared into thin air.
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:40 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd ask someone at Saks what kind of an error it could be. If it is possible that your friends paid money that they are now losing, I'd tell them. Most errors I can think of would involve something like a cashier not swiping the card to activate it, and the customer therefore not paying for the card but not noticing because they are buying a bunch of other stuff. Or, one card in a stack got swiped twice, so the overall charge was the same but one card was empty. If it was likely to be something like that-- no erroneous charge to your friends-- I would let it go. But if Saks has a system where someone could eff up and lose your money, like by entering digits wrong or something, that might change things.
posted by BibiRose at 7:46 AM on December 1, 2013

This is a situation in which I find myself torn between what I think it's perfectly fine for you to do, which is to mention it to your friends, and what I know perfectly well I would do, which is say nothing.

A gift card that doesn't work is, in some but not all ways, analogous to a defective gift. If someone gave me a gift worth $50 and it didn't work, there is some chance I would return it to the store. There is NO chance I would tell the other person, "Hey, the gift you gave me didn't work, so you were ripped off, and I just wanted you to know."

Ultimately, I like the idea of going to the store and asking them what can cause this -- could the card have been demagnetized? Was it not swiped? What kind of evidence would it take to prove that the card should be valid?

The reason I like that idea is that I would only approach it with the friend if I were confident that the friend was highly likely to be able to make it right at no cost and very little inconvenience. Because if the friend cannot make it right (as in the example where the clerk simply doesn't swipe it and there is no receipt), I would fear the friend would feel obligated to replace it by buying another, which I would not want.

I suspect part of the issue may come down to this: What are the odds that your friend has kept the receipt from the gift card they purchased for you? Is there a graceful way to find out? (I cannot imagine one; maybe someone else can.) Because if your friend has no receipt, it may well be that your friend is SOL, and if that were the case and it were me, I would fall back on "it's the thought that counts," and although your friend would certainly "want to know" in order to make it right, I'm not sure the friend would "want to know" in order to find out they could not make it right and had to spend another $50.

It's tricky. Go with your gut, but I honestly think either option here is okay. It's legitimately a tough question.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:56 AM on December 1, 2013 [14 favorites]

Tell them right now because waiting is only going to make it more likely that they mislay or throw away their receipt.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:28 AM on December 1, 2013

There is absolutely no realistic scenario where there is something your friends deliberately did to give you a dummy gift card instead of a real one for money reasons.

You should definitely let them know! It is kind of an awkward moment, but I fail to see how they could interpret this as being about them or about money in any way.

Another idea might be to call the store's customer service and see what they advise, but no guarantees they would be helpful without some proof that the gift card was actually purchased.

Re them being bureaucratically stressed out lately, you could always offer to take them out to lunch or a drink after going in to the store together, or some similarly nice gesture.
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 AM on December 1, 2013

I would call the store first (better yet, go in person if you can) just to save them the legwork of having to figure out what went wrong.

If I believed it was an error (and I'm sure in your case it wasn't intentional) I personally wouldn't think find it awkward to tell my friends; in your case I'd find it more awkward if they asked what I got with the card, and even more awkward at the thought that they might be wondering why I never mentioned the great thing I got with it.

I'm a super-Asker, though. YMMV if you're a Guesser.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:08 AM on December 1, 2013

I would call the friends. Sometimes, gift cards glitch and if they have a receipt, it's easily solved.

However, don't go to the store. I have worked in several major retailers and we are almost never able to do anything about a faulty giftcard. We always recommend calling the number on the back because there's nothing we can do about it. It's not like we can just take your word for it and most pos systems don't come up with software we can use to track purchases on giftcards to come up with a history. Call the number!
posted by cyml at 9:08 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, I'd be bummed if I found out that I gave someone a $50 gift card that didn't work and they didn't tell me.

On preview, I revise my advice about dealing with the store first. Call the number on the card first.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:16 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would call the store first to figure out if there is a processing delay or something like that. If they tell you they can't do anything and you must contact the friend, I would send a note to the corporate office and the store manager letting them know that their faulty gift-card process (whether it's non-activation of the card or fraud) creates an awkward situation between you and your friend that you will always associate with the name Saks. Then I would contact the friend before they throw the receipt away.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:16 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I purchased a card for someone who had the same experience you did: he presented the card and was told there was no value on it.

I ultimately worked with the issuer of the card to get the problem resolved. It was a frustrating process that took longer than it should, so I can understand why you wouldn't want to foist it off on the couple that gave you the card. But as I recall, I didn't do anything that the recipient of the card couldn't have done himself--it was a matter of finding the right people to call and giving them information which was on the card itself. They were able from that to identify it for a card that should have had value but wasn't fully processed, and they were able to complete the activation process and resolve the issue.

So I would second the suggestion that you first try to see if you can resolve the issue yourself.
posted by layceepee at 10:40 AM on December 1, 2013

This happened to me last year. My dad bought me a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card at another retailer (Rite Aid or Safeway maybe) and the cashier didn't activate it at checkout. The people at BBB were unfortunately not helpful at all - you might want to find out if this was a direct-from-Saks card or a third-party card.
posted by radioamy at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2013

I work in a store that sells gift cards. If a customer came to me and said that their gift card wasn't working, my first thought would be that they'd picked it up in store and were trying it on. I've known this actually happen several times. I certainly wouldn't be able to put the value on the card even if I really wanted to. Even if you go into the shop in question with a receipt that says the card was activated on X date with Y value, there's nothing to have stopped you from spending the money from the card between that date and now.

How it works where I work, is that there's a third party company who handles gift card payments for lots and lots of companies. Although you're buying a gift card in a MyCompany store that says MyCompany on it, my company doesn't actually do any kind of processing and administration of the cards beyond sending a message that says "card # xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx was topped up/withdrawn by $VALUE" to the third party company that handles them. Chances are, there's a telephone number on the card, which should be your first point of contact. The card may not be registered on the system as having been activated, in which case the cashier did something wrong. Or there might have been a chargeback on that transaction if the customer paid by credit card, in which case the gift card balance would be null and void. Or the payment might not have been applied to the card yet. I (the cashier) have no way of knowing what transactions have taken place with the card since it left the shop following activation. The only people who can see this level of detail are the people who issue and administrate the cards. That might be Saks, it might be someone else.

Call the number first, and see what they say. If you can get hold of the activation receipt, that would likely be very helpful. If you have some other way of proving that X amount was spent at a particular Saks store on X, Y and Z things, such as a till receipt, you might have more luck.
posted by Solomon at 11:33 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I had given someone a gift card that did not work, I would very much want to be told about it.

I gave a gift card this past summer as a graduation gift. I remember that when I bought it, the cashier had a lot of trouble activating it, and at the time, I was worried that he may have messed it up. I never heard from the gift card recipient -- no thank-you note or other mention of the card -- so I am now wondering if it did not work and they just decided not to let me know. After reading this thread, I think I might ask if there was any problem using the card!

Anyway, yes, I think your friends would want to know.
posted by merejane at 11:54 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could ask if they have the receipt with the activation code by implying that that would let you use it online... If thy don't have it, then there's little you can do anyhow by informing them further.
posted by Iteki at 12:12 PM on December 1, 2013

I think it'd be reasonable to do any possible legwork that you could in order to spare your friends the trouble of following up. And also, I would definitely want to know, if a $50 card that I bought for my friend was in fact worthless! So in addition to all the steps above especially as outlined in Solomon's advice, I'd call your friends, ask if they still happened to have the receipt, and let them know you're dealing with it because you don't want them to be getting ripped off.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:34 PM on December 1, 2013

One thing to be aware of: Selling fake or cashed-out gift cards is a major scam on Ebay that ropes in *a lot* of people. If they got the card, there, they've been had, and if they give these peeps any more money, they will be getting conned.

Of course, that may not be what happened, but if it was, I'd want to know, wouldn't you?
posted by smoke at 3:11 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: UPDATE!: Based on the time frame of when we put out word that we were having a birthday dinner and the fact that this couple lives across the road from the Saks in question, i decided to call Saks first and see what could be done. I called their regular customer service line at 877-551-7257. They attempted to check the card and initially it came back "invalid" and I was on hold for a minute or 2 while they checked some other way and found it to be open with 70$ on the card. They advised that it should scan at the store and if it does not, they can issue a new card.

Awkwardness averted.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:04 AM on December 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

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