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Beware gift card resellers on eBay, other sites



Updated: January 23, 2012 4:10AM

Dear Fixer: I purchased three $500 Lowe’s gift cards on eBay on June 13, June 16 and July 13. I paid a total of $1,320 for the cards.

I verified that they had $500 on them upon their arrival. I started using two of the cards and had a balance of $392 on one, $439 on another and the full $500 on the third.

This weekend, we were going to start on a major project on our home. I went to our local Lowe’s and all three cards were at a zero balance.

Lowe’s told me I was scammed on eBay and that they couldn’t do anything about it. Ebay told me they couldn’t do anything since it was past 45 days, and so did PayPal and my credit card company.

As a middle-class, hardworking citizen, I am out a lot of money, and no one wants to take any responsibility.

I have heard you have created miracles, and I hope you can help me. I’m sad and angry and had put these no-expiration cards aside for special home projects.

Elaine Criswell, Michigan City, Ind.

Dear Elaine: You asked for a miracle worker — you got one! To be honest, The Fixer wondered whether this was a lost cause — with gift card scams not exactly rare occurrences — but the folks at eBay decided to make this right.

Shortly after The Fixer brought this to their attention, Nic Oliphant from eBay’s executive office contacted you and promised that a full refund of $1,320 would be put in your PayPal account.

You told The Fixer you cried at this news — and we were happy to help.

As for the scam, apparently there are a number of things to watch out for when buying secondhand gift cards, whether on eBay or elsewhere. According to, scams can take several forms:

The hot potato: The gift cards were purchased with stolen credit cards. The scammer has to turn over these gift cards quickly, before the stolen credit card is discovered and the gift cards are disabled. If you buy one of these, you’re probably out of luck.

Bait and switch: Instead of mailing the gift card you bid on, the scammer sends a card with little or no value for a completely different merchant. It’s mailed with a signature confirmation required, so the scammer can prove they mailed something. If the victim demands a refund, the scammer will sometimes rely on seller insurance to pull off the scam anyway.

The back door: You get the card and it’s what you ordered. But a few days later, the balance drops to zero. That’s because the seller used a “back door” method to get its value, such as shopping online or reporting it stolen and having it reissued. To protect against this, make sure the card’s PIN hasn’t been exposed before the sale. When you receive the card, check to make sure it’s not registered to someone else, and register it to yourself immediately.

Lost in the mail: You buy a card but it gets “lost in the mail.” This is fairly easy to resolve as long as you complain about it quickly and bought it with a credit card.

Mystery auction: A seller holds an auction for a gift card that’s worth “up to” a certain dollar amount. Once the auction ends, the seller just mails out a card that’s worth less than the winning bid.

It sounds like you were a victim of the “back door” scam.

As of Friday, eBay had more than 23,000 sale items under “gift card” (some of them, oddly, selling for more than the face value of the card). Ebay does have rules surrounding these sales, such as cards must be $500 or less and a seller is not allowed to list more than one gift card at a time (unless it’s an authorized reseller or direct supplier approved in advance).

We asked eBay whether, in light of all the possible scams, they’d consider restricting the sale of gift cards, but we didn’t get a reply.

So, everyone: Consider yourself warned.

Getting the runaround over a consumer problem? Tell it to The Fixer at , where you’ll find a simple form to fill out. You’ll also find a list of consumer contacts and tips. Because of the large volume of submissions, The Fixer can’t personally reply to every problem. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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