How to Make Sure Your Gift Cards Aren’t a Gamble

Dear ABC News Fixer: I purchased six gift cards for Shoney’s restaurants. But when I tried to use the cards at a Shoney’s in Branson, Mo., they told me they had a zero balance. I had to charge $52.01 on my credit card to be able to leave.

I took the cards back to the supermarket where I bought them, and they could see where I had paid. Also, when I called the phone number on the back of the cards, it says there is a balance.

I called and emailed Shoney’s about this but didn’t get a response. I have over $100 in gift card money that no one will do anything about.

– Diana Buchanan, Steele, Mo.

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Dear Diana: Well, there’s certainly no better way to suffer indigestion after a meal than being told your method of payment won’t work.

We also checked your cards and they seemed to have money on them, so we asked Shoney’s, what gives?

They investigated and were able to replicate the problem, meaning the cards showed a balance but for some reason, they didn’t work in a sample transaction. The weird thing is no one seemed to know why. However, a Shoney’s spokesman told us they “are confident that this is an isolated issue” after running multiple tests with other gift cards that were selected randomly.

At any rate, they were extremely apologetic and said, “We should have assisted Ms. Buchanan at the restaurant and have reminded our team that any discrepancy or questions concerning card balance can be rectified on the spot.”

Then they mailed you some new cards to replace your original purchase (and also restoring $24.21 you’d already spent on an earlier visit before this happened).

You said you’re happy with the resolution.

With holiday gift-giving around the corner, it’s worth reviewing a few gift card basics for the rest of us:

– Don’t let gift cards sit in a drawer. Under federal law, they can’t expire for at least five years, but the danger with stashing them away is you’ll simply forget to use them. Also, under that same federal rule cards can be docked an “inactivity fee” if they haven’t been used in 12 months. So go out and use those cards.

– Include the receipt if you’re giving a card as a gift. The recipient will need it in case there’s a problem.

– Consider the retailer’s or restaurant’s financial condition before you buy a gift card. If they shutter their business, you don’t want to be stuck with their cards.

– An obvious caution that bears repeating: Don’t buy gift cards from unauthorized online resellers, even if they seem like a great deal. It’s not worth the potential for fraud.

– The ABC News Fixer

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