Elise/Shutterstock

Elise/Shutterstock

When Ed Probst tries to redeem an 11-year-old gift certificate, the company stonewalls him. How do you get a business to honor a debt from 2001?

Question: I was doing my annual end-of-the-year file clean-out and found a $200 gift certificate from 2001 from Territory Ahead. There is no expiration date.

In December, I went online to place an order. Of course, there is a spot on the checkout page to enter a gift card number, but it would not accept the number. So I called the 800 number to place the order and gave the gift certificate number to the agent, who was confused. So she had to ask her supervisor if it was acceptable.

After a few minutes she was back on the line and walked through the order with me and then said everything was all set. Stupid me, I never asked for a confirmation number. I waited a few days and never got a confirming email.

A few days later, I called again and got the nicest person, who took my order again. Then, when we got to the gift certificate part, she went offline to check with her supervisor. She quickly got back to me and said they had to check their records to confirm the certificate had not been used before but she would call me back the next day to confirm. That was a month ago. Can you help out on this one? — Ed Probst, Wauwatosa, Wis.

Answer: Gift certificates are often regulated by your state, but in your case, Wisconsin doesn’t address the usability of the funny money. Here’s a list of relevant gift certificate statutes. So if the certificate says it doesn’t expire, you should be able to redeem it.

Even though your $200 still should have been good, it is worth significantly less than it was in 2001. The reason? Inflation. Once you factor that, you’re getting only about $155 of buying power. Also, there’s no guarantee Territory Ahead — or any company, for that matter — will be in business more than a decade from now. For these reasons, you probably should have used the scrip immediately instead of hiding it away in your drawer.

I shouldn’t talk. I probably have several gift cards tucked away in my drawers. Which reminds me, when I’m done writing this column, I’m going to rummage through them. You never know what you’ll find.

Territory Ahead owed you a fast and honest answer to the question, “Can I use this certificate?” After you sent me a photo of the certificate, I believe the answer should have been “yes.”

Most of your interaction with the company had taken place by phone, though. Phone calls work well when you need information, but they don’t provide hard proof of a conversation. So when a representative assured you that you could use the $200 gift certificate, getting that in writing was really important. And you’re right — even a confirmation number would have been helpful.

I suggested that you send a brief, polite email and a photo of your certificate to Territory Ahead through its website. You did.

Two weeks later, you received an email saying the certificate was valid along with a number for a replacement gift card. You quickly placed an order and the online form accepted the new number. Case closed.

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