Many gift cards come with a warning printed on them: “Treat this gift card like cash.” That’s because, when a consumer loses a gift card, it’s can be gone for good.
The features that make gift cards so convenient — their small size and the fact that you can tuck them away to use later, also make them easy to misplace, lose or even get stolen.
So, if you lose a gift card, do you have any recourse? In some cases, yes. Merchants sometimes will issue you a new gift card — but experts say that depends on the retailer, proof that you owned the gift card and, sometimes, how hard you try.
Lost your gift card? Now what?
It’s important to contact the retailer as soon as you realize your gift card is missing. Taking quick action can reduce the chance that someone else will use the gift card before it’s reported stolen.
“If someone does find it and use it, it’s pretty much gone,” says Brad Wasz, co-founder and COO at CouponTrade.com, a coupon site and online marketplace for unused gift cards.
Policies about lost gift cards vary by retailer, but it’s easiest to get a replacement card if you have the original receipt from the purchase, experts say. “Some retailers are pretty strict about it,” Wasz says of the receipt requirement. For example, Wal-Mart’s lost gift card policy states you must have the original receipt.
|More from our 2012 gift card package|
However, other stores will allow you to present the debit or credit card that was used to buy the gift card, so the retailer can look up the purchase transaction number and verify the gift card, Wasz says.
But don’t count on that, says Kwame Kuadey, founder and CEO of the gift card exchange site GiftCardRescue.com. “I’ve seen many customers lose gift cards because the retailer won’t do the extra work to try to recover the card.”
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of contacting the retailer and getting a new gift card, you might have another option. If you wrote down the gift card number, you probably can go to the retailer’s website and redeem your gift card that way. In the past, that wasn’t always possible, but now about 90 percent of retailers will allow you to use a gift card online with just the number, Wasz says.
In any case, if the retailer tells you you’re out of luck, be persistent, Wasz says. Some retailers will go out of their way to avoid having disgruntled customers broadcast their gripes via social media.
“Don’t be afraid to demand that they reset your gift card,” he says.
Keeping your gift cards safe
Because it can be such a hassle to try to get a gift card replaced, it pays to keep these little pieces of plastic safe. If you are planning to give gift cards this holiday season or if you just tore the wrapping paper off a shiny new card, what can you do to prevent its loss? Here are some tips:
1) Pick the right card for the recipient. As a gift giver, if you put a lot of thought into your choice of gift card, the recipient is much more likely to go use the card right away, minimizing the chance it will go missing, says Dan Horne, gift card expert and professor of marketing at Providence College. If Uncle Bob loves to build model planes, skip the generic department store gift card and get him a card to his favorite hobby store.
2) Pay the right way. Use a credit or debit card instead of cash to pay for a gift card so there will be an additional record of the purchase, aside from the original receipt, Wasz says.
3) Record gift card details. You can jot down your gift card information (and keep it in a safe place, of course) or use an app to record the gift card number and PIN. Using an app such as Gyft is the best option because it allows you to keep all of your gift card numbers safely in one place and track balances, Kuadey says, noting that the average person has three to five gift cards.
4) Register the card if you can. Some merchants, such as Starbucks and Crate and Barrel, allow you to register your gift card for use online. This can provide an extra layer of protection, Wasz says. But Kuadey says it can be more hassle than it’s worth if you already recorded your gift card number via an app: “It’s just one more site you have to log onto,” he says.
5) Guard your cards. Treat your gift card like a $50 bill. Don’t leave it lying around on a table, in a drawer or on the floor of your car.
“Thieves love gift cards,” Horne says. If a criminal steals your car stereo, he can get only about 20 cents on the dollar for it, Horne says. But if he swipes your gift card, he can sell it for about 80 cents on the dollar.
6) Spend it or sell it. The longer you keep a gift card around, the more likely you are to forget you have it.
“Gift cards are kind of use it or lose it,” Kuadey says, noting that most people know as soon as they get the card whether they want to use it. “If you’re not going to use it, then re-gift it or sell it and get cash.”