When an Amex Gift Card Winds Up in the Wrong Hands

July 25th, 2017

American Express assures consumers on the packaging of its prepaid gift cards that funds can be replenished in the event the gift card or its information is lost or stolen and winds up in the hands of the wrong person intent on spending the balance on a shopping spree of their own.

But a more accurate (albeit less appealing) description of the company’s policy on lost or stolen gift cards lies in the packaging’s fine print. There, Amex breaks the news that replacement cards are issued “only to the extent of available funds at the time of notification.” In other words, if someone has used all or part of the funds by the time you realize the card is not where you left it, you’re out of luck.

A further explanation is tucked away in a cardholder’s agreement on Amex’s website (capitalization in original):

If the Card or Card number is reported by you as lost or stolen, we will issue you a replacement Card with a value equal to the Available Balance on the Card at the time you notified us of the loss or theft. NO REFUNDS WILL BE PROVIDED FOR AMOUNTS DEBITED FROM YOUR LOST OR STOLEN CARD BEFORE YOU NOTIFY US.

A reasonable consumer might interpret this to mean that Amex will provide refunds for unauthorized purchases made after you notify the company. However, another section of the cardholder’s agreement puts even that in question. The section states:

Purchases made with the Card are similar to those made with cash, in that you cannot “stop payment” or lodge a “billing dispute” on purchases made with the Card. Any problems or disputes you have regarding a purchase should be addressed directly with the Merchant.

A TINA.org reader said she took her complaint to the merchant from whom she purchased a $200 Amex gift card when Amex told her the money on the card had been spent in Las Vegas and that is why there was a zero balance when her daughter tried to use the card. Amex, she said, did nothing to fix the problem until she persisted with her complaint.

American Express boasts that its prepaid gift cards can be used “virtually anywhere” Amex is accepted. But they can also be used by virtually anyone.  Consumers should be familiar with a provider’s policies before they put down for the plastic.

TINA.org reached out to American Express for comment. Check back for updates.

Find more of our coverage on gift cards here.

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