Did I really pay for worthless Amazon gift cards?

Did she buy worthless Amazon gift cards? Michelle Couch-Friedman, author

Did Deborah Morse-Kahn get tricked into buying worthless Amazon gift cards? Nothing seemed amiss when she made the cash purchase at her local mom and pop pharmacy. But when she tried to load the $100 value into her online account, she found out something was wrong — very wrong. Can we help?

Question

I purchased two unopened Amazon gift cards at a pharmacy in my town. When I tried to add them to my account, I found that each had an unreadable scratch-off code. I contacted the customer service chat, and a representative took the numbers. He said he loaded the credit to my account. But he never did update my balance. Another representative later told me he could not help even though it’s clear to me that the original representative diverted my funds. I’m so upset!

I am on Social Security, and I want to buy Christmas gifts for my family and use Prime for quick shipment. I want the company to reimburse me for these worthless Amazon gift cards. Please help!!! Deborah Morse-Kahn, Lutsen, Minn.

Answer

Although I was sympathetic when I read your complaint, I was reasonably certain that I would be unable to retrieve your money.

If you take a look through our Amazon forum, the reason for my pessimism should become immediately evident. There are a plethora of consumer tales of worthless Amazon gift cards, missing balances and suddenly closed accounts.

Those worthless Amazon gift cards

Our advocacy team has developed quite a track record with these worthless Amazon gift cards cases. And I don’t mean that in a good way. In fact, in situations like yours, we have been batting zero. It’s been impossible to pry even a courtesy response from the behemoth retailer.

A common consumer behavior pattern has been detected in these stories though. Typically, the consumer has purchased high-value gift cards from an unapproved third-party seller.

Amazon forbids this practice, and its terms make clear what can happen if the company determines that a user has obtained their gift cards through an unofficial source.

We reserve the right, without notice to you, to void Gift Cards (including as a component of your Amazon.com Balance) without a refund, suspend or terminate customer accounts, suspend or terminate the ability to use our services, cancel or limit orders, and bill alternative forms of payment if we suspect that a Gift Card is obtained, used, or applied to an Amazon.com account (or your Amazon.com Balance is applied to a purchase) fraudulently, unlawfully, or otherwise in violation of these terms and conditions.

No idle threat

Account closure is no idle threat. The company can and does close accounts and removes questionable account balances with minimal explanation to the former customer.

The company typically sends one final email announcing the closure of the account and removal of all balances. Most consumers caught up in these situations report that after that last email, Amazon ignores any further correspondence.

And if Amazon closes your account, it’s pointless to try to open another one. The security systems that are in place will close that account down as well. Although, that hasn’t stopped some consumers from trying.

One thing is clear: If Amazon determines that you are violating its terms of use, you won’t be using Amazon anymore. And you might find yourself in possession of a pile of worthless Amazon gift cards.

The company is committed to preventing its gift cards from being used in fraudulent ways. It has a page dedicated to alerting its customers to common scams involving Amazon gift cards.

A different type of case

But your case was different from most of the others. None of the typical red flags for abuse of the system were there. First, the value of your Amazon gift cards was quite low. And you told me that you never had any past accounts closed.

However, the most compelling part of your case was in your paper trail.

You sent me a chat transcript from the original Amazon representative. This employee told you that he added the $100 balance to your account and that you should see it within one hour.

When the balance failed to update after several days, you grew impatient and went back to Amazon. A different representative gave you the startling news — someone had already spent your $100.

The impersonal response you received from a first-name-only customer service representative told you that the gift card numbers had previously been redeemed. He informed you that Amazon would not be refunding the missing balance. This representative recommended that you return the gift cards to the store where you purchased them and ask the owner to investigate.

This response would have made sense if you didn’t have the transcript from the previous representative verifying the balance of the two cards.

Finally! An answer from Amazon

With just days before Christmas, you were desperate to get your gifts purchased and shipped. Using our Amazon company contacts, you begged for reconsideration of your case. And at the same time, you contacted the Elliott Advocacy team’s helpline.

Despite my lack of success in resolving any previous Amazon gift card cases, I decided to present the chat transcript to our executive contact and make a plea for reconsideration of your case.

Surprise!

Within three hours of my request, you received a personalized email and phone call from the top of the Amazon executive customer service chain. The company had taken a closer look at your specific situation and agreed to return your $100.

Amazon was able to deliver your gifts before Christmas, and I scored one for the consumer team. A win-win situation!

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