12 On Your Side Alert: Gift cards

By Aaron Gilchrist - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - She just wanted to do a little online shopping. But for one local woman, buying a Visa gift card to shop almost robbed her of a hundred bucks.

These little pre-paid credit cards are supposed to be for convenience. You pay the amount indicated on the card and a small activation fee. The store then sends you on your way ready to spend, or at least it's supposed to be.

Stephanie Merck would be the first to admit she has a special talent for shopping. She can sit down at the computer and just go to town. But a few months ago, she wanted to limit how much she was spending.

"I saw the gift cards advertised on TV, so I figured out that CVS here sold them. So I was like ok, I can get $100 and use that to shop online," said Stephanie.

She came to a CVS on West Broad Street, bought a $100 card and went back to her computer.

"So I went online, tried to make my purchase and I was declined," Stephanie said.

Stephanie took a second look at the packaging and saw that "Funds may not be available for 24 hours after purchase."

Fine. She waited 24 hours before she tried to use it again and that's when the headache began. The card was declined again. Stephanie called Vanilla Visa Customer Service.

"They said no, the store did not activate it, so you need to go back and take it up with CVS," Stephanie said.

Back at the CVS, a manager got the card company on the phone and what Stephanie says came next just blew her mind.

"I said well, wait a minute, why is it null and void? It doesn't say anywhere on the label that if I use it before 24 hours, it isn't good at all. That doesn't make any sense. So they basically said she's out of luck because she shouldv'a followed the fine print," Stephanie said.

We came to the CVS where Stephanie bought her Vanilla Visa. The manager here couldn't go on camera. But he did tell us, he's had several customers come back after having problems with that card. He said the problem lies in the fine print.

We also got a vanilla gift card. Ripped open the package and read the fine print that the CVS manager told us so many of his customers don't. Yes, there was the statement about when the money would be available, but nothing about the card being voided.

There's another theory floating around in the blogo-sphere. That some online retailers reject gift cards because they can't verify the owner like they could with a regular credit card.

The fine print with the Vanilla Visa card tells users to go to their website to put a name and address on file before trying to shop online, by mail, or over the phone.

The CVS manager says a lot customers just open the card and keep moving. But he says you really have to read all of the fine print to know what you're getting into.

Stephanie was able to get part of her money back.

To go to the Vanilla Visa website click here and to go to that blog about shopping online with gift cards click here.

In a written statement to NBC12, Bancorp Bank, the company that runs the Vanilla Visa pre-paid card program, says:

"...while some of our retail partners may use an activation delay in conjunction with other fraud prevention measures, we do not, as a matter of policy, 'void' a card if an attempt to use it occurs within 24 hours.

Our retail partners are equally committed to the delivery of a good customer experience with the products and services they offer for sale."

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