I got a gift card for high school graduation from a family friend we only rarely have conversations with. It was for $50, but when I tried to use it, it had no money on it. I then noticed that the code on the back had been exposed. Should I tell the family friend?

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    Is the $50 printed on it from the factory, or did the family "friend" just say that it's worth $50? – RonJohn Jun 2 '19 at 22:08
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    How soon after being given the card did you try to use it? Were you able to view a transaction history on the card issuer's site? Does it show being loaded and spent, or never being loaded? – Ben Voigt Jun 3 '19 at 16:17

There could be any number of scenarios that happened. Here are some possibilities:

  • Gift giver purchased card, but it was somehow messed up during activation. (Not likely, in my opinion.)

  • Gift giver gave you a card that he had obtained previously and thought it had money on it, but didn’t realize that it had already been spent.

  • Gift giver purchased the card, but someone the gift giver knows took it long enough to write down the numbers and replaced it, spending all the money.

  • Someone scraped the code while it was in the store and it wasn’t noticed at the time of purchase. When it was bought, they drained the money. (Possibly the most likely scenario. Thanks, @Loren Petchtel, for this addition!)

Gift cards don’t have the same fraud protections as credit cards. If the money was stolen, it is gone. If you go back to the gift giver and tell him there was no money on it, if he replaces it for you, it will cost another $50.

It is entirely up to you what you want to do. If it was me, I wouldn’t say anything. The gift giver has already spent $50, and because it was a free gift to you, you are not out anything just because the gift turned out to be worthless. It is unfortunate that his gift went to a thief instead of you, but that’s just the way it turned out.

  • Most gift card issuers will replace the funds, and probably successfully get the money back from the merchant they were paid out to. The merchant would be out the money unless they kept good records on who made the purchase. The rest of society doesn't really cry for a merchant with fraud-friendly policies, even though practically no stores check ID in a way that would actually shut this down. I think most of the focus is on stopping the compromise at the retailer selling the cards. – Ben Voigt Jun 3 '19 at 16:17

My first step would be to talk to the company that issued the card. Tell them what happened, and that you believe the money was stolen. They should be able to see when the money from the card was spent, possibly other information to help figure out what happened. And they should be able to tell you where to go from there.

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