A gift card conundrum at Adorama, and no one is listening to me

Bill Foy’s gift cards don’t work. Why isn’t Adorama listening to him?

Question: I’m trying to resolve an issue with Adorama, an online electronics retailer. I’ve been trying to buy a camera from them through their site using four gift cards worth a total of $200. I’m trying to put the remainder on my credit card. I’ve found no way to do that online.

I should add that I’m hearing impaired and can’t use the phone for this, so I’ve been trying to resolve this online.

I contacted Adorama’s customer service department and gave them my gift card information. A representative told me the gift cards were turned down “by your credit card company.”

I checked the balances and they show $0 and the cards having been used at Adorama. I simply want them to credit me with the $200 they’ve obviously gotten from the gift cards and let me pay the remainder with my credit card. Can you help? — Bill Foy, Upper Gwynedd, Pa.

Answer: This is indeed a mystery, but it’s not unsolvable. Adorama should have been able to apply your $200 toward your camera purchase. You were using an open-loop gift card for your transaction, which means it was issued by a company like MasterCard or Visa, and some of those cards will let you transfer the remaining cash to your bank account. But watch for fees.

Check for regulations that might benefit you. For example, residents of California can cash out any gift card with a balance of less than $10. But there are money-laundering laws that prevent gift cards from being able to be turned into cash. They also prohibit the value of a gift card from exceeding $1,000.

Related story:   What to do about Comcast's broken promises?

In your case, it wasn’t really a question of whether you could transfer the balance to your account, though. A quick call to Adorama by a member of my advocacy team revealed that one of your gift cards was declined, which voided the entire transaction. The cause? A simple data entry error. That could have easily been clarified with a phone call, but you couldn’t do that because of your disability.

Adorama reran your credit card and shipped your camera. I would recommend that the company finds a way to handle more complex transactions like yours through email, so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • sirwired

    Was Telecommunications Relay Service tried? I thought that was the normal way for the hard-of-hearing/deaf to communicate over the phone. (My hard-of-hearing grandmother even has a state-supplied phone that runs a call through her state’s relay service with the push of a button, putting the text on an attached large-print LCD.)

    That said, many retailers are reluctant to work with Relay customers because the service has been abused by foreign scammers looking to hide their location.

  • Chris_In_NC

    As a Adorama customer, I’m surprised that the OP had difficulty communicating by e-mail. Adorama is one of the few companies that has CSRs that are responsive. Hopefully this is a one time glitch, but as you say, the OP was using a Visa/Mastercard gift card, not a “Adorama” gift card.

  • Grandma

    The problem with e-mail communication – it is not secure. You should never send your credit card, gift card etc number through e-mail. E-mail is not recommend to do ‘more complex’ transaction.

    But it seems this case the problem was a ‘simple data entry error’ – probably LW typed wrong numbers?

  • PsyGuy

    You would think the LW could probably have advocated this for themselves, since it was nothing more than a minor data entry error?

  • PsyGuy

    Phones aren’t secure either. Email is very secure if you encrypt your email. Security aside, Email has the benefit of providing a paper trail.

  • PsyGuy

    Yes, but LOTS of people use VISA and MC. This shouldn’t be something unusual for a sales rep to accomplish.

  • Nathan Witt

    This is not an oblique criticism of the OP – I’m genuinely curious: What circumstances lead people to be in possession of multiple gift cards for a particular retailer and it not be a part of some sort of shady scheme? I get gift cards occasionally (as actual gifts), but I get one, not several. When I want to buy something from a particular retailer, whether online or physical, I give them my credit or debit card, and I use that method to buy what I want. I don’t purchase gift cards and then use those cards to buy my merchandise. I don’t understand the benefit of that extra step. I understand that this was a case of someone using Visa/MC preloaded cards, and I understand that those might have come from multiple sources, or be a good way of “storing” cash if you don’t have a bank account, but these kinds of stories on this site almost always involve multiple cards or high dollar amounts, and I’m curious to know what sort of legitimate reasons people have for being in that position.

  • Lee

    Well, maybe there was a certain item there she wanted and a number of people bought gift cards for the vendor to give her so she could get the camera she wanted because one person alone couldn’t afford a large amount, so a few people gave her cards for the same place to help her pay for the item? That makes sense to me and there is nothing shady about it that I can see.

  • jae1

    Some credit card rewards programs offer discounts on gifts cards (e.g., buy a gift card worth $50 for $40 plus 10 points). I could see someone using up points by buying several cards if the dollar limit on the available cards is lower than the price of the item they want to buy. They might also want to purchase several cards if they’d just rather not have too much value at stake on any one card, or they’re thinking they might give them to people, but instead end up using them themselves.

  • William Leeper

    Actually, having personal experience with this, telecommunications relay service is available to anyone with a hearing disability regardless of how severe the disability is. Many hard of hearing individuals use TRS, and TRS provides more than TTY service, they provide voice carry over where the hearing impaired person will still speak their conversation, and the other person can hear their speech while the communications assistant is typing what the hearing person says so the hearing impaired can read it. They also provide hearing carry over where both parties can still listen, and the speech disabled person types their conversation which is read by the communications assistant. There are also other types of TRS services.

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