I was in a perfectly good mood before I called to find out the balance on a Visa rebate gift card from Cingular, now AT&T.
The gift card was a rebate that I got after buying a Motorola V3i Razr cell phone from Cingular in January 2007. At the time, I didn’t notice the fine print on the back of the card: It would expire in June 2007.
I was too busy thinking that a rebate sent in the form of a Visa card with $50 on it meant that I would actually get to spend the money, no matter what.
Shortly after I activated the card on some murky date in spring 2007, a grocery store “team member” wouldn’t take it as payment for part of my total bill, and told me I’d have to call the card company to find out the balance. I put the card in a “safe place,” meaning another purse, and recently rediscovered it.
I had to find out why the card was being rejected. Before the call, I hadn’t checked out the gift card legalities in my state or in the state where Cingular-now-AT&T might be located.
I was going to doggedly ask for the balance regardless of any bogus “expiration date.” I wasn’t going to yield to that “tiny” legal point until I’d gotten shot down by the top person at the company.
As I hit rep after rep who told me the card had expired 120 days after I got it, my “insides did not match my outsides.” As an experiment, I didn’t let it show in my voice.
I channeled Oprah’s “calm assurance” (a description of her I’m borrowing from Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer”) to see if it might help.
I went through four reps, all of whom curtly told me the card had expired, flat out. No dice.
With each rejection, I asked to speak to that person’s superior. As I climbed the ladder, I repeated my “case” in an extremely calm voice: “I don’t think that’s legal, because I didn’t have a chance to finish spending the balance on the card.”
The first rep (Miss $5.85 an hour, living at home and walking to work in ragged tennis shoes?) said in a completely unservice-y tone, “Excuse me?”
I asked to speak to her supervisor. A bored male ( $7 an hour, crashing on the Goodwill sofa of his friend’s one-bedroom apt., surrounded by empty pizza boxes?) told me I could speak to his supervisor as well after he told me the card’s balance was not valid, but I would just hear the same thing. The card was a promotion, and it had expired, he scolded, as if I were a customer who’d tried to use a stolen card.
“Well, it was supposed to be the promised rebate for my cell phone, so I’m going to keep going up,” I said.
After the call, I found out that the fine print, at least in Texas, where I bought the phone, can entitle the card company to reclaim the funds on an expired gift card, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It shows that Texas Business & Commerce Code Ann. §35.42 says that “Expiration date must be disclosed as specified,” and Texas Property Code Ann. §72.1016 says that, “The stored value card is presumed abandoned to the extent of its unredeemed value on the earlier of: the card’s expiration date; or three years after the card was issued, if the card is not used after it is issued, or the date the card was last used.” But Cingular is now AT&T, based in Sacramento, Calif., and California Civil Code §1749.5 says, “Expiration date prohibited.”
The card was an “open-loop” or “spendable anywhere” Visa with $50 loaded onto it via MetaBank, not a “gift certificate.” California Civil Procedures Code §1520.5 says, “Gift certificates purchased after 1997 are not subject to escheat. The escheat law does apply to any gift certificate that has an expiration date and that is given in exchange for money or any other thing of value.” But this was a rebate, not a gift card I got in exchange for money. “Escheat” means the state can reclaim the money.
I wasn’t backing down, regardless of which state’s civil code did apply, and again, while I was on the phone, I still hadn’t even checked.
I was hoping they’d honor the card for the sake of that old-fangled concept, soon to be forgotten (?), “customer service.”
Rung by rung, the reps stubbornly said I had a zero balance. The card had expired. I didn’t use a “tone,” with anyone, but repeated, “I didn’t have a chance to use it that fast, so I would like to speak to your supervisor.”
I thought about hanging up when the third rep ($10 an hour?) left me on hold forever, but finally I reached a supervisor ($20 an hour, own apartment?) who said she’d mail me a replacement card.
“Persistence pays!” my co-worker said when I told her about it. Of course, we both said, we’ll believe it when the replacement card arrives in the mail.
I don’t know whether it was the fact that AT&T is in California, where cards can’t expire, or whether my voice, as calm as if I were choosing glazed vs. sprinkles at Dunkin’ Donuts, soothed the reps on all those recorded calls, or if the last rep I spoke to had just been taken out to lunch by her new boss and figured, “Hey, it’s not my money!” or what.
Next time I find a gift card with a balance, I could channel Tony Soprano and see how far that gets me.
And now that I work at CreditCards.com, I know that gift cards can expire.