“I feel like Starbucks is stealing money from me”

Question: I need your help with a problem I’m having with Starbucks. Over the years, I have regularly purchased Starbucks gift cards on eBay at a discount and simply transferred the balance to my loyalty card registered to my Starbucks account.

I recently discovered a website called Raise.com that was selling Starbucks gift cards at a 20 percent discount, so I purchased about $1,600 worth of cards from the company. I thought these could not only be used by my family and me, but would be great gifts for coworkers.

Realizing that I bought these from a third party, I tried to protected myself by transferring the balances to cards registered to my Starbucks account.

Two weeks later, Starbucks froze my account without notifying me. I called them and asked why they froze my account and they said that a few of the gift cards I had purchased had a chargeback placed on them by the bank, and they had traced the cards to my account and froze my entire account. That included funds from gift cards that I had received for my birthday and had purchased.

It turned out that four of the cards I had bought from Raise — about $1,200 worth — and one from eBay had gone bad. I’m guessing they were purchased fraudulently. I received a refund for all those cards from both parties.

Here’s my problem: Prior to this unfortunate incident, I had $444 of funds in my account. Starbucks is refusing to unfreeze those funds. They insist that I must send them a copy of a credit card statement or store receipt in order to receive it.

I told them that it is totally unreasonable to ask for that, especially when I received some of these cards from friends and colleagues, not to mention it being a privacy issue to obtain a friend’s credit card statement and send it to them. They told me that unless I send these documents to them, they refuse to refund the balance of my account after these bad cards are deducted.

I feel like Starbucks is stealing money from me. In no part of their terms of service do they prohibit purchases from third party vendors, and I have done nothing wrong. I would appreciate it if you could help in some way. I have spent hours on the phone with them and have reached a dead end. — Peter Volpe, Chicago

Answer: You’re right, Starbucks doesn’t specifically forbid buying cards from third parties in its My Starbucks Rewards terms and conditions. But that doesn’t necessarily mean what you did was correct or that the company’s actions were unwarranted.

Scroll to the end of the terms, and you’ll see a line that says the company “reserves the right to terminate your account and/or your participation in My Starbucks Rewards if Starbucks determines in its sole discretion that you have violated these Terms of Use, or that the use of your account is unauthorized, fraudulent or otherwise unlawful.”

In other words, the fact that you had purchased these cards was enough reason for Starbucks to close your account.

I contacted Starbucks to get a few details of this dispute. Let’s just say it was a long conversation. The company is well aware of your case, and a spokeswoman told me these scammy card purchases are a problem with other customers, too.

Here’s how the deception works: A thief will steal a credit card number and charge thousands of dollars worth of Starbucks credit to it, then resell it at a discount through a site like eBay. By the time the crime is discovered, the bad guys are long gone, leaving the cardholder or the site to sort things out.

My best advice? Avoid buying Starbucks credits — or any similar credits — through a third party website. They could be legit, but they may not be.

In my discussions with Starbucks, it became clear that you had a history of dealing with the company, and that the interactions haven’t always been positive. Starbucks released a statement that said it has been “in ongoing conversations” with you.

“We temporarily froze his account due to a number of cards that were found to be fraudulently loaded and subsequently transferred onto his Gold Card,” it added. “We have issued him a new Starbucks Gold Card and look forward to crediting his account once he is able to provide us with the necessary documentation verifying that his card was not fraudulently loaded.”

Starbucks’ position is that because a fraudulent card was used to make some of the purchases in your account, the entire account is suspect. It will only return your credits if you can prove them wrong.

According to its terms, it can do that.

Did Starbucks handle Peter Volpe's complaint correctly?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • bodega3

    So you learned a lesson…I would hope!

  • Latresha

    I think the Ebay Seller should be responsible for this transation. Just recently noticed that $200 was charged to my account from a hacker that hacked though a retail system and purchased gift cards from Starbuck Card. I don’t go to Starbuck nor drink coffee. I was able to get the amount credited back to my account in a timely fashion and the giftcards that were used balances where no longer going to be on the card. Individuals who purchase these gift cards to save a few dollars…. it’s really best to purchase the gift cards yourself. With that said, I feel it’s the Ebay Seller responsibility to refund the seller. However, it appears that the Ebay Seller are the ones who are scamming individuals.

  • Jan Do

    Starbucks doesn’t seem to have any actual proof of fraudulent use or activity. They just “claim” it is fraudulent. My office (an attorney) is dealing with this matter for one of our clients at the moment. An internet search shows that this type of theft BY STARBUCKS has gotten worse since 2013. They regularly claim fraud and take people’s money. I would suggest a class action suit or at the very least making a report to the AG’s office. Also, buy your coffee from the local coffee shop. It will be just as good a a lot less expensive! (Glad I don’t like coffee!)

  • Jan Do

    How do you or Starbutts know the cards were fraudulent. The only “claim” they have no proof. That is what they are doing to our client right now. The theft is there alright, but the thefts are being perpetrated by Starbutts.

  • zim312

    I bought plenty of starbucks (or other) giftcards thru Raise.com .. They were electronic delivery, and pretty fast.. I never saw 20% off,but I never bought over the $50 value cards, I did see 18% off quite often. It no longer seems to be the case, 9% off is the best they have for starbucks now, and its all $90 or higher value cards. 18% off $4 lattes and fraps doesn’t seem so impossible to me..

  • Jonathan Westerman

    This exact situation just happened to me today with Starbucks. Do not use Raise or other 3rd party companies to buy gift cards. Starbucks will freeze the entire account at their own determination. In my case, I had bought 10 gift cards over the past 6 months. Because one of the cards I bought was “fraudulent” they seized my entire account. Customer service won’t tell me which of the cards was bad yet they hold onto all of my funds – and not just the amount of the one card which was bad. There should be legal action as it is not a crime to seek out a good deal on a 3rd party website. As to the question why did he have 1200 on a coffee card? Maybe he travels for business or entertains clients? That is not a crime either.

  • bodega3

    Wish I could feel badly for you but I can’t.

  • Harry Hirsch

    No Starbucks is NOT wrong. Read the last part of the article again:

    “Starbucks’ position is that because a fraudulent card was used to make some of the purchases in your account, the entire account is suspect. It will only return your credits if you can prove them wrong.”
    You want to have an account with Starbucks, you accepted Starbuck’s Terms and Conditions.

  • Guest

    You are confused about something, namely there is nothing in Starbuck’s Terms and Conditions that say that.