“I feel like Starbucks is stealing money from me”

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By Christopher Elliott

Peter Volpe’s Starbucks account is frozen, and he doesn’t understand why. Is the company allowed to just confiscate his credits?

Question

I need your help with a problem I’m having with Starbucks. Over time, I’ve bought discounted Starbucks gift cards on eBay and transferred the balance to my registered loyalty card.

I found Raise.com, a website offering Starbucks gift cards at a 20% discount, and bought approximately $1,600 in cards. I thought these could not only be used by my family and me, but would be great gifts for coworkers.

Purchased from a third party, the balances were transferred to cards registered in my Starbucks account for protection.

Two weeks later, Starbucks froze my account without notifying me. I called them and asked why they froze my account and they said that a few of the gift cards I had purchased had a chargeback placed on them by the bank, and they had traced the cards to my account and froze my entire account. That included funds from gift cards that I had received for my birthday and had purchased.

Frozen Starbucks funds

Four cards from Raise, totaling about $1,200, and one from eBay turned out to be unusable. I’m guessing they were purchased fraudulently. I received a refund for all those cards from both parties.

Here’s my problem: Prior to this unfortunate incident, I had $444 of funds in my account. Starbucks is refusing to unfreeze those funds. They require a copy of a credit card statement or store receipt for me to receive the refund.

I told them that it is totally unreasonable to ask for that, especially when I received some of these cards from friends and colleagues, not to mention it being a privacy issue to obtain a friend’s credit card statement and send it to them. They told me that unless I send these documents to them, they refuse to refund the balance of my account after these bad cards are deducted.

Southwest Airlines is dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to providing our employees with a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

I feel like Starbucks is stealing money from me. In no part of their terms of service do they prohibit purchases from third party vendors, and I have done nothing wrong. I would appreciate it if you could help in some way. I have spent hours on the phone with them and have reached a dead end. — Peter Volpe, Chicago

Answer

You’re right, Starbucks doesn’t specifically forbid buying cards from third parties in its My Starbucks Rewards terms and conditions. But that doesn’t necessarily mean what you did was correct or that the company’s actions were unwarranted.

Scroll to the end of the terms, and you’ll see a line that says the company “reserves the right to terminate your account and/or your participation in My Starbucks Rewards if Starbucks determines in its sole discretion that you have violated these Terms of Use, or that the use of your account is unauthorized, fraudulent or otherwise unlawful.”

In other words, the fact that you had purchased these cards was enough reason for Starbucks to close your account.

My advocacy team and I contacted Starbucks to get a few details of this dispute. Let’s just say it was a long conversation. The company is well aware of your case, and a spokeswoman told me these scammy card purchases are a problem with other customers, too. (Here’s our ultimate guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

Unmasking the dark side of third-party Starbucks credit purchases

Here’s how the deception works: A thief will steal a credit card number and charge thousands of dollars worth of Starbucks credit to it, then resell it at a discount through a site like eBay. By the time the crime is discovered, the bad guys are long gone, leaving the cardholder or the site to sort things out.

My best advice? Avoid buying Starbucks credits — or any similar credits — through a third party website. They could be legit, but they may not be. It is better to just avoid a scam altogether.

In my discussions with Starbucks, it’s evident you’ve had a history of interactions, not always positive. Starbucks released a statement that said it has been “in ongoing conversations” with you. (Related: Scammed: How to Save Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals.)

“We temporarily froze his account due to a number of cards that were found to be fraudulently loaded and subsequently transferred onto his Gold Card,” it added. “We have issued him a new Starbucks Gold Card and look forward to crediting his account once he is able to provide us with the necessary documentation verifying that his card was not fraudulently loaded.”

Starbucks believes the entire account is suspect due to fraudulent card usage for some purchases. It will only return your credits if you can prove them wrong.

According to its terms, it can do that.

Did Starbucks handle Peter Volpe's complaint correctly?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in São Paulo.

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