I have heard recently from two readers who have experienced some level of gift card fraud. Both ladies shared their stories with me so that I could relay their experiences to you, hoping that you could possibly avoid the same fraud.
Both readers explained to me that they were given gift cards to a restaurant (not the same one, thankfully). In both cases, they used the gift cards partially, paying both the bill and the tip using the gift card. Both ladies kept their receipts from that transaction.
In one case, the reader returned to the restaurant for a second visit. Upon attempting to pay for the meal, the server returned to explain that there was not an adequate amount of money remaining on the gift card.
Quickly (and thankfully), the customer was able to produce the receipt showing where she paid the bill and tipped the server previously. The manager was called to the table, the situation was explained, and a resolution was reached.
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As it turns out, the server had helped himself to an additional tip amount -- clearing most of the balance out of the gift card.
This customer, my reader, was able to prove her case because she still had her receipt from that previous transaction.
In the other case, the reader explained that she provided a gift card to a server to pay for her meal with her family. Somehow, the server got the impression that every bit of money left on the gift card was for them!
The manager had to be called so that the gift card could be retrieved -- from the trash -- at the customer’s request. The server explained that he thought the gift card was cleaned out completely. However, even after a tip was added to the bill, there was still a balance on the card. Infuriated, the customers demanded their gift card be returned.
In both cases, the use of gift cards at restaurants opened up the customers to fraud. In both cases, the servers took advantage of the fact that many customers have no idea what their balances are -- and certainly banked upon the fact that neither customer would raise a stink, even if they became aware of the problem.
So, how can you avoid this type of fraud when using a gift card at a restaurant -- or at any business where a tip can be added?
First, when you use the gift card, immediately write the balance remaining (if you did not deplete it all) on the card in permanent marker. Then, fold the receipts that correspond with that purchase (there are usually two) around the card itself. Place the card with its purchase history receipts together in your wallet. Doing so will enable you to prove any deception or fraud, should the need arise.
A second method for protecting your gift card balances is to check them periodically. For example, if I used a gift card at a restaurant but did not deplete the card completely, it would be a good practice to call the toll-free number a day or two after the purchase. Then, it might be a good idea to call just before using the card again. Doing so helps alleviate any surprises at check out time when using the card a second time.
Of course, another way to make sure your gift cards are handled properly is to purchase them in small denominations that can be completely depleted with each purchase. If you are not carrying a balance on a gift card, the possibility for fraud and theft has been eliminated!
Contact writer Rachael Mercer at email@example.com.