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I bought 4 $500 Vanilla Visa Gift Cards from CVS Store #2149 in Alexandria, VA right before Christmas. I used my Citibank MasterCard to pay for the gift cards. They were for my employees as a holiday gift. The cards were located near the rear of the store in a remote and unsupervised location. By the time my employees tried to use the card, all of the funds had been drained of a total of $2,000. The funds were used at Apple Stores, Best Buy, etc. I contacted Vanilla..... it was a very frustrating process. I was on the phone to a call center in India for over an hour and a half. At the end of the call, they said I should hear back "WITHIN THREE MONTHS"!!!! They were very non-committal and just described it as a potential "unauthorized use" of the card.

I contacted CVS and they had absolutely no interest in addressing the issue.... just referred me to Vanilla. I feel that CVS has primary responsibility because they sold me a product that had obviously been compromised. With all of the lawsuits and complaints over this issue, they certainly knew that placing the cards in an unsupervised location at the back of the store was inviting criminal activity.

Can I successfully dispute the CVS charge on my personal credit card that I used to purchase these 4 gift cards?

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    What is not clear here - but is potentially extremely relevant - is when the fraudulent ("drained") transactions took place. Did they take place before or after the time of your purchase from CVS? Also relevant - and varies by store/type of card: Did you get anything other than a standard receipt? For example, does CVS provide an activation code/$ value on the receipt? Commented Jan 8 at 22:50
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    (IANAL) I'll second @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact's question about when the draining occurred relative to the purchase date. If BEFORE then you seem to have a clear VISA claim . || If afterwards then it's more complex, as the scammers have the card credentials for an after purchase use. || You were STILL sold a valueless item in the latter case, so have a VISA claim BUT it is harder to prove. || I'd be interested in knowing the answer re timings - it would be useful to be in your question. Commented Jan 9 at 9:30
  • This Q&A is relevant and may or may not be useful. Commented Jan 9 at 9:33
  • Do you have customer protection agencies in your jurisdiction?
    – vsz
    Commented Jan 9 at 12:17
  • If it says VISA on it how is that not the one and only go to? (after you jump through all the hoops : "where the cardholder has lawfully cancelled his agreement in accordance with the merchant's cancellation policy with an online, phone or mail-order merchant; or the item received is different from what was ordered and documentation exists to support the claim") visa.ca/en_CA/pay-with-visa/security.html
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 9 at 12:46

7 Answers 7

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There were news stories regarding this type of theft in the Washington DC area, as well as other parts of the country.

Yes, complain to the place you bought the card. Yes, complain to police. Yes, complain to your credit card company. Yes, complain to the vanilla card company.

Not complaining masks the size of the scam.

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    Definitely complain. Don't expect to get anything back though, other than from the gift card issuer based on unauthorized charge claim.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 8 at 20:08
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    And keep a copy of the police complaint. Keep a copy of every document and paper trail. It might be for nothing, but if you ever get to court, being without these will hurt you badly. Commented Jan 10 at 16:17
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Reading the comments it is clear that some people misunderstand the question.

Can I successfully dispute the CVS charge on my personal credit card that I used to purchase these 4 gift cards?

The OP used a credit card to buy a bunch of gift cards which they now claim were drained. The OP is asking whether they can dispute the purchase of the gift cards, they already disputed the transactions that drained them.

The answer is - of course you can, but you won't succeed. In order for a merchant chargeback to succeed, the buyer must show that:

  • either the transaction was unauthorized - that's not the case here, they did in fact purchase the gift cards,
  • or they didn't get what they paid for - that's not the case here, the OP did in fact get the gift cards, the unauthorized charges appeared on the gift cards after the purchase.

Everything else is futile arguments. Yes, the OP has been scammed. No, noone will return the money to the OP unless they absolutely have to. Yes, the gift card company can probably identify this pattern of fraud. No, it doesn't mean that the OP should immediately be reimbursed, they still need to show that they are not in fact the scammer themselves.


It is unlikely that you can successfully dispute the purchase of the debit cards, since that purchase was authorized and not fraudulent. Unless you can prove CVS to be negligent, it is unlikely that you can prevail on any claims against CVS either.

I suggest discussing this with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction for a proper evaluation of your legal chances against any of the parties involved. I also suggest filing a police report for the fraud that occurred.

What you're describing is a pretty common theft scheme called "gift card drain": the scammers take unsold gift cards, scan them and then reseal them again in their original packaging and put them back on the store shelves. Once the cards are sold and activated the scammers have all the information they need to clear them out. There have been numerous news reports on this.


There are several people downvoting this answer because it is based on the assumption that the OP may be lying.

So just to make sure we're on the same page: everyone but the OP wil assume that the OP is lying and the OP is in fact the one trying to scam the system.

In order to prove otherwise, the right avenue is an unauthorized charge claim against the gift card issuer, which then will be investigated by the issuer and determined to be true or false. Everyone else will deny any claim because the OP cannot prove they did anything wrong.

For people keep claiming it's trivial to determine the OP is not lying - how exactly is that trivial? The scammers are not doing anything different from legitimate users, and there's no way to distinguish a legitimate transaction from an illegitimate one without knowing anything about the user (which in case of gift cards - the issuers know nothing of). So unless a claim is made and investigated - the issuers have no way of distinguishing those.

For people claiming the OP didn't get the goods - the OP themselves admits that they did. The card was in fact activated with $500 value, the draining occurred after activation (which is the delivery event). Any claim that the card was activated with $0 value is easily refutable, and a chargeback on that claim will not succeed.

As to tampered packaging - that's a valid claim only until the cash register.

While letting CVS know that they have a tampering problem is a good idea, it's not going to bring money back to the OP. They will not file an insurance claim unless they absolutely have to. For that - a police report would need to be made, for starters. Maybe a threat of a lawsuit.

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    Usually the code to scan would be protected by something you have to scratch away that can't easily be re-added... are giftcard in the US not like this? Do they just have a code "in the open"?
    – Bakuriu
    Commented Jan 8 at 6:55
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    for gift debit cards, the CVC is printed on the back of the card and is usually not covered. Often times there are gift cards with codes covered, but its easy to remove that layer and replace it again. And even if the scammers don't cover them back, it doesn't even matter because by the time the purchaser unpacks the card and sees the code scratched away, the scammer already siphoned the money away.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 8 at 6:57
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    Can you argue that the "goods" purchased were defective? I don't know what grounds you can dispute debit card transactions on in the US. Commented Jan 8 at 12:27
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    The OP intended to purchase gift cards with a value of $500, CVS delivered gift cards with a value of $0. CVS did not deliver the goods bargained for therefore, certainly herein the UK, I would expect a chargeback to be successful.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Jan 8 at 17:41
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    @deep64blue "CVS delivered gift cards with a value of $0" - that's not true, CVS did in fact deliver gift cards with a value of $500, and that's admitted by the OP themselves. The cards were drained after activation, and it is not yet an established fact (or ever will be) that it was due to CVS negligence and not due to the OP's negligence. I don't see why the chargeback would be successful.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 8 at 20:00
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No, you can not dispute the charge.

I'd try going back to that CVS, talking to the manager (who is almost certainly not the criminal, they have too much to lose), letting them know they have a tampering/theft problem, and asking them how they are going to deliver the value you paid for.

They may be willing to trade the tampered-with cards for new ones and make a claim against their insurance. You may need to make a police report before their insurance will cover that, and you should do so anyway.

If the store doesn't offer to fix the problem, tell them you're going to get the local newspaper's ombudsman involved; it they still refuse to make you whole, do so. There may be other resources available in your area to put some pressure on them; the police can probably suggest some of them.

If they still don't budge, I agree that the next step is to contact Vanilla, whoever that is.

If you and the recipients are lucky, have a clean record otherwise, and can show that the cards were used far from anyplace you were, you may get one of these layers to take pity on you, once. If it happens again, they're going to see a pattern and suspect deliberate fraud.

The real answer, I'm afraid, is that these generic stored-value gift cards are much less protected than a normal credit card, and are should be avoided. If you want to send someone a cash gift as a physical token, write a check.

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    If that CVS has a tampering problem, I assure you - they know. The people working there may actually be that very tampering problem. Why would they admit anything?
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 8 at 21:57
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    They may not admit it. The manager should be told. And, as I said, they may issue replacements. Though you may indeed need to make a police report before their insurance will cover that, and you should do so anyway. If the store doesn't offer to fix the problem, tell them you're going to get the local newspaper's ombudsman involved; it they still refuse to make you whole, do so. There may be other resources available in your area; the police can probably suggest some of them.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jan 9 at 3:33
  • You should add this to your answer.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 9 at 3:54
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    What is this "check", of which you speak? I haven't seen one of these (in Europe) in over 20 years... Commented Jan 10 at 12:56
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    @littleadv: Especially if the staff are responsible for the tampering, they have a strong incentive to compensate OP on the spot, to avoid the complaint getting escalated to an investigation. Commented Jan 10 at 16:13
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Can I dispute a credit card charge for a hacked Vanilla Visa Gift Card?

You should try, the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease...

If you've been a long-standing customer with your CC then they may sway things in your favor out of courtesy.

Facts:

  1. You bought gifts cards on XYZ date
  2. The gift cards were spent after XYZ date

At the end of the day, someone has to eat a loss of $2,000 and I can guarantee you none of the parties involved wish to do that.

As of now, the burden-of-proof rests in your lap to prove you did not spend the gift cards yourself and are now trying to make a fraudulent claim/gain.

For proof, go back to that CVS and see if any other cards were tampered with; this assumes they haven't been replaced already. For all you know, the people you complained to are in on the scheme.

Take pictures of the unmonitored location of the gift cards because you may have to write a letter to CVS's corporate headquarters.

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    Yep. Exactly this: the burden of proof is on the OP, no-one wants to eat the loss just as the OP doesn't. Not sure why it's such a difficult concept for everyone to understand.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 8 at 21:56
  • "As of now, the burden-of-proof rests in your lap to prove you did not spend the gift cards yourself and are now trying to make a fraudulent claim/gain." No, that's not how fraud cases work. Commented Jan 9 at 3:04
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    @Acccumulation the question was about chargeback for the purchase of gift cards. The store will easily prove that the OP has in fact purchased them. The chargeback will fail. I really don't understand what are you all trying to argue here.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 9 at 3:55
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If it wears the Visa logo, it has to conform to Visa's standards for refunding fraud claims (chargebacks).

Telling you "3 months" is unacceptable at any level. That is conveniently so far out that 90% of people would forget about it by then, and the 10% who actually follow up could be told "well it's just too late to file a claim now" and other nonsense. So I can see why Vanilla's Indian call center would say that, but it is violating Visa's rules to say so.

5 days is the standard, so you need to talk to Visa the moment you hear this 90 day nonsense. You bought the cards on the strength of their brand. It's absolutely well within Visa's ability to interdict the revenue stream going to Vanilla or Apple or whomever to assure the chargebacks are paid; ask any small Visa merchant who has had chargeback problems.

Pipelining money into other brands of gift cards is a standard money laundering technique, and Vanilla ought to know that, and if they don't they need to eat the losses until they learn it.

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    That's nice. Wrong, but nice. From the link you provided: Visa's Zero Liability Policy does not apply to certain commercial card and anonymous prepaid card transactions or transactions not processed by Visa
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 9 at 21:29
  • Ah the unfortunate point of OP being an edge case of the question. Federal law limits the consumer liability to $50; however that won't apply to a corporate card.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 9 at 21:45
  • @littleadv is correct. A VISA gift card has a different liability policy than a card issued to an individual or corporation. Also, OP didn't say whether these cards were purchased on a corporate or individual account so the $50 consumer liability limit is of unclear relevance. Commented Jan 9 at 23:40
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    I'm not arguing, I agree with you that we disagree on the interpretation of that sentence. You can convince me, if you want, by showing the actual policy that would enumerate the exceptions and showing the OP falls into one of them. The fact that instead you're trying to attack me personally shows to me that you have nothing in the policy to substantiate your stance on. That's all. While my tendril of evidence may be slight - you have provided none to support your position other than ad-hominem attack against me.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 12 at 21:07
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    Here's the actual policy, if you care to read it: assets.ctfassets.net/ipocadpk9uyx/4wAj8zhjfZ8JqkyDFkG9wE/…
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 12 at 21:23
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You engaged in the purchase with the understanding that you were receiving a secure gift card. If this was not the case, if the gift card was compromised, then you didn't get what you thought you were paying for, and you have a valid chargeback case.

You should ask for Vanilla to refund the money, and if they and CVS refuse (or refuse to do so in reasonable time), you should file a chargeback with Citibank and file a complaint with VISA. If Citibank refuses your chargeback, you should file a complaint with MasterCard.

As for people saying you have the burden of proof, that's not how defective product claims generally work. If you claim that you bought a package of fish sticks, and when you got home it was full of sand, the grocery doesn't get to just say "Well, there's no proof that you didn't eat the fish sticks yourself and then fill the box with sand." If you order a package from Amazon and it never arrives, Amazon doesn't get to just say "Well, maybe you did get it, and you're just trying to scam us out of a refund."

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    secure gift card - oxymoron right there. Gift cards are by definition a bearer payment instrument and are not secure in any way shape or form.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 9 at 4:29
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    If you claim that you bought a package of fish sticks, and when you got home it was full of sand, the grocery doesn't get to just say "Well, there's no proof that you didn't eat the fish sticks yourself and then fill the box with sand." - Yes, they do, and they will, and they will be right!
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 9 at 4:30
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    If you order a package from Amazon and it never arrives, Amazon doesn't get to just say "Well, maybe you did get it, and you're just trying to scam us out of a refund." - Absolutely they will. And in fact, they do. Try doing it more than once or twice and not only will they refuse refund, they'll block you as a customer. You do know Amazon deliveries are all photographed, right?
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 9 at 4:31
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    @littleadv: You know amazon delivery drivers have been caught on door camera photographing package as delivered and then stealing it right? Also, the scams would not be possible if CVS had kept the gift cards behind the counter.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 9 at 18:10
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    I have observed, working in the industry, at least one way it would work independently of store placement altogether. In fact, that's the only time I've personally observed it (as an employee of a firm involved, not personally affected). Swiping it off the shelf and then putting it back hoping no-one would notice the tamper is actually one of the riskier implementations of this scam (for the scammer).
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 10 at 1:48
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It seems to me that fraudulent and unauthorized activity happened with the Vanilla and Visa are to be complained to, and it's a crime to be reported to police. I would see that as a duty whether or not I got my money back.

I had a hacked card in 2003 and Visa has contacted me and asked me about charges in eastern London, while I was in central London. So, Visa can detect and accept geographical information as an indication of fraud. I was never asked to prove that I had never ridden the ferry to Isle of Dogs, never charged lunch at Burger King, or shopped at World of Leather.

If the fraudulent purchases were in-store, Visa can note the geography and note it doesn't match. If it was so close-by that subterfuge by the card recipient is suspected, store security video can confirm the purchaser wasn't the card recipient, and parking surveillance may note license plates, make of car and the like. I'm sure Visa has arrangements with stores that streamline such a request for data.

If the fraudulent purchases were on-line, again Visa should be able to get the shipping address and hopefully a logged IP address, account# and other information (potentially including all sorts of browser cookies), then further find out from the ISP which physical customer would have originated that data stream. I'm again sure Visa has arrangements with stores that streamline such a request for data.

CVS seems to have given you what you paid for, so I'm not sure CVS or Mastercard would be responsible to make you whole. The theft of information could have happened before the cards got to CVS, or after you bought them. CVS may however have a contract with Visa how such goods are stored and displayed, and if they are in violation of that Visa could have a case with CVS. That said there may be laws in your jurisdiction that help.

I would personally prioritize dealing with Visa, now that Vanilla has given you an untenable timetable. If that gets no traction, then I would check if I could get help from a local newspaper ombudsman and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A lawyer would be my next call as that will also be expensive, on top of being a time sink during your business hours.

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  • The fraudulent purchases were on anonymous gift cards, for which most of the detection mechanisms you're describing would not work. Which is exactly why these types of cards are excluded from the Visa's fraud guarantee mentioned in another answer.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jan 12 at 19:01
  • Granted Visa wouldn't be able to auto-detect them, but would be able to discern them in response to a report, and be able to verify that the cards were used other than by the owner. The written fraud guarantee doesn't necessarily decide the issue. They can write it but not honor it for instance by making it too hard to qualify for. Or they can not write but then give a refund anyway. One assumes Visa wants to continue this business and too many bad stories will mean people will not buy this product--and even perhaps switch to alternate payment mechanisms. Commented Jan 14 at 9:55

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