“I feel like Starbucks is stealing money from me”

Question: I need your help with a problem I’m having with Starbucks. Over the years, I have regularly purchased Starbucks gift cards on eBay at a discount and simply transferred the balance to my loyalty card registered to my Starbucks account.

I recently discovered a website called Raise.com that was selling Starbucks gift cards at a 20 percent discount, so I purchased about $1,600 worth of cards from the company. I thought these could not only be used by my family and me, but would be great gifts for coworkers.

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Realizing that I bought these from a third party, I tried to protected myself by transferring the balances to cards registered to my Starbucks account.

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.

It turned out that four of the cards I had bought from Raise — about $1,200 worth — and one from eBay had gone bad. 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 insist that I must send them a copy of a credit card statement or store receipt in order to receive it.

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.

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.

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 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.

In my discussions with Starbucks, it became clear that you had a history of dealing with the company, and that the interactions haven’t always been positive. Starbucks released a statement that said it has been “in ongoing conversations” with you.

“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’ position is that because a fraudulent card was used to make some of the purchases in your account, the entire account is suspect. 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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