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I want you to be aware of this gift card practice that I came across when using a gift card online. After reading this post, you’ll know what to do if it happens to you–and prevent it from happening to you!

This literally happened to me this week:

I tried to use one of my gift cards for Office Depot and their website told me it was invalid.

Now, other people might assume that they just forgot that they’d used that gift card. And they’d throw it away, cough up the extra money to make their purchase, and move on with their day.

But I knew that wasn’t right. I had used this gift card before and I also kept track of how much was left on it.

An invalid message is not going to fly with a consumer like me. I have electronic evidence of all gift cards I’ve purchased and I track exactly how much is left on them. (Thank you, Raise, for making that easy.)

I looked it up quickly in my Raise app, and within seconds, I knew I should have $49.60 of buying power left on the Office Depot gift card. That’s not chump change to me!

And it turns out that I wasn’t imagining things.

Read on to find out why my gift card wasn’t working and how it was resolved.

Of course, the first thing I did was contact customer service.

Here’s the rigmarole that I went through to discover what the real problem was:

(Or if you’d rather not read about my customer service adventure, just scroll further down to get to the resolution and advice for prevention.)

When I got an error during checkout, I used the website’s chat window. After explaining the issue, the chat agent told me:

“As we are the sales chat support team I am sorry to state we do not have much information regarding this payment issue as the gift card is the mode of payment so we are not authorize to take any kind of information in this I would like to inform you that we have a dedicated team to look into this mater I am providing you the contact details please contact them they will help you in this mater. Gift Cards 888-602-6948 “

So I called the Gift Cards number.

They tried to look up the gift card information and successfully found it. But they received an error code when trying to check the balance. Since they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the card, they gave me another number to call for gift card help: 877-776-5056

That turned out to be an automated gift card balance phone line. After entering my gift card number and pin three times (because it didn’t like my pin), it hung up on me. I tried calling back and the same thing happened again.

After getting hung up on twice, I called gift card services back and they transferred me to customer service. This agent manually walked through entering my gift card information in the cart on their end. And it produced the same results as before, but they didn’t know why the gift card wasn’t working either.

They gave me yet another number to call to talk to rewards services: 866-562-3872.

Finally, this agent knew what the error code meant. When he saw the error number, he immediately asked when I bought the card. I told him in 2018.

Five humans, 2 robots, 7 phone calls/transfers, and 2 hours later, I finally knew why my gift card wasn’t working.

My gift card had been deactivated due to lack of use.

All of this trouble was because it had been 1.5 years since I last used this gift card.

After all that, I was told it would be another 24-48 hours before my gift card would be reactivated. What? I was trying to make a purchase with it when I called and now I was being told that I’d have to wait another day or two before I can complete my purchase?

“Scammy” Gift Card Practice: If you haven’t used your gift card in awhile, some businesses will deactivate your gift card.

It’s not actually a scam, but it feels scammy to me. I don’t know why they would do this, but it sure seems like they’re hoping I’d think I must’ve used the gift card and throw it away.

So what can you do to safeguard yourself from this gift card practice?

  1. Track your gift card balances! You are entitled to your money. There are laws in place to prevent gift cards from expiring for at least five years.
  2. Only buy the amount of gift card that you need. I recommend using Raise to get a gift card for the exact amount of your purchase (or as close as possible) right before you buy. If there’s a deal on gift cards that you just can’t pass up, try not to get more than you can use in a year.
  3. Don’t assume that you must’ve used up all of your gift card if it doesn’t work. Contact customer service to resolve the issue. If you’re like me, you only keep gift cards that you think should have some amount of money on them. (This is where rule number one comes in handy because you’ll know how much money should be on it. If you bought it on Raise, you can track this info easily in the app, along with the order history. A nice bonus feature!)

So my printing purchase sat in the shopping cart on Office Depot’s website. And I’m never buying.

The time waiting for my gift card to reactivate actually allowed me to figure out a way to be more thrifty and green.

I was going to print a 50-page pdf document, front and back for taking notes on a training course that I’m doing. I wanted to be able to track my answers to the assignments directly on the pages.

Because of my gift card road block, I researched how to edit and annotate a pdf document for free. There were a lot of product options out there- and most were definitely not free. But my research paid off. Someone mentioned using Adobe Reader. So I dug around in that free application on my laptop.

Adobe Reader to the rescue. I didn’t realize I could use it to annotate pdf documents for free, but sure enough, it can! It’s a little clunky, but it’s a lot better than nothing. And it’s saving me money, gasoline, time, and paper/trees. In fact, it’s worked so well for me that I’m planning to write a tutorial on how to use it for note-taking in PDFs.

This was a solution to my printing needs that will save me money and trees now and in the future.

If I’d printed out every lesson in my training course, it would have easily cost me over $60. Not to mention the paper guilt! Now I can save my gift card for something else. Like maybe Frugal Thumb bumper stickers!

Anyway, I digress. What I really want to stress here is to track your gift card balances, try not to overbuy gift cards, and don’t let businesses trick you into throwing away perfectly good gift cards.

Your frugal friend,