Should I run toward — or away from — this gift card case?

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By | March 6th, 2016

The question from Sooraj Chokkalingam had a familiar ring to it. There were gift cards that had suddenly lost their value. There were hundreds of dollars at stake. I was his last hope.

If you think you’ve heard it all before, it’s probably because you have. For better or worse, this site has developed a subspecialty in recovering lost gift card balances lately.

For example:

And yet, whenever our team receives an email like Chokkalingam’s, we wonder: Who are we really helping when we get involved in a case like this?

As a matter of fact, should we even get involved?

Chokkalingam says he purchased three eBay digital gift cards each worth $200 from Target.com, which is an authorized retailer for selling eBay gift cards.

“When I tried to use those digital gift card redemption codes on eBay.com on Feb. 10, they show no balance,” he says. “I contacted eBay gift card customer service, which is apparently handled by PayPal. They confirmed all the gift cards are linked to a PayPal account owned by a different individual. So it is obvious someone stole my gift cards, possibly from the eBay-PayPal gift card system, and eBay and PayPal have all the details about the individual who did it because they know the PayPal account used.”


The eBay gift card terms and conditions promises it will replace stolen gift cards with proof of purchase and a gift card number, which Chokkalingam has already sent Target.

Related story:   The best holiday gifts for travelers

He wants someone to replace $600 worth of lost gift cards.

“But I am not getting any help from eBay, PayPal or Target,” he says.

So … could I jump in?

My first thought was, “Why yes!” No one should be able to keep $600 of someone else’s gift cards.

But then I started to wonder about the case. Almost all of the gift card cases we receive involve fraud, or allegations of fraud. I’m not saying this one does, but this case raises some questions (as indeed they all do).

✓ Why would someone buy $600 of eBay gift cards from Target?

✓ How can the money just disappear? If it does, why doesn’t the company conduct an investigation and report the findings?

✓ Why would eBay, Target and PayPal go into radio silence?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still in full-on “Scrappy” mode.

But experience has taught me that there must be more to this story. There just has to be. I’m afraid that the deeper I dig, the more evident it might become that I shouldn’t be anywhere near it.

And yet, how will I know if I never start digging?

What would you do?

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  • Alan Gore

    When you buy gift cards from one of those ubiquitous store displays, be aware that there are scammers who go around copying the serial numbers off them, which can be done in an instant by snapping a cellphone picture, and then registering and draining the cards online before they are ever purchased.

  • JewelEyed

    How do they do that when they’re not activated?

  • Jeff W.

    Here is what I would ask. How did the person purchase the gift cards from target.com? Because it seems very strange to buy a gift card for eBay on Target. Why would you not buy it from eBay direct? Especially at list price?

    I was at the grocery store last night and in the aisle where you buy gift cards, there is a very prominent sign that states that you cannot buy gift cards with gift cards.

    So the only reason why I think one would buy eBay cards from Target is the gift card equivalent of money laundering.

    Stay away.

  • JewelEyed

    Maybe see if you can get someone to clue you into why there’s been (apparently) no response. If something sketchy is going on, even if you find that you shouldn’t or cannot advocate for the resolution that he would like, there’s always a lesson in it.

  • Pat

    Something smells with this and I would have your ten foot pole at the ready. I just checked and eBay gift cards purchased from target.com are delivered by email. This is not a physical gift card. There is a lot more to this story that we or probably Chris was given. If this is a legit theft, I would say they need to file a police report and deal with eBay / PayPal directly as this is a very sophisticated theft ring doing this.

  • AJPeabody

    Just keep trying to use it until someone buys the card. Activated. Bingo! It’s time to take the money.

  • Tom McShane

    I say check it out. It will likely be informative and entertaining for us loyal readers.

  • Tom McShane

    So we should buy a card from the bottom of the stack and pick cards close to the checkout counter where crooks with cameras are more likely to be spotted.

  • AAGK

    This sounds like a Target issue. Why didn’t he just return them and get a refund if he was sold empty gift cards. It wouldn’t even occur to me to contact anyone other than Target.

  • Pat

    eBay gift cards sold through target.com are delivered through email. There is no physical card.

  • Éamon deValera

    It seems like taking this case would almost require depositions and sworn affidavits. Stored value card fraud is indeed rampant. Perhaps suggesting to the consumer that he or she avail themselves of their state’s laws and consumer protections regarding these types of financial instruments.

    I eschew stored value cards.

  • Flyonpa

    Just about all the Gift Cards now have the “scratch-off” activation numbers now, so just getting pictures of the cards are worthless you need the numbers under the scratch off to activate them.

  • Altosk

    There are legit reasons people buy eBay gift cards:
    1. Don’t want to put a real credit card on PayPal. (Having been a victim of PayPal fraud myself, I totally get this)
    2. Some sellers prefer eBay gift cards to other methods of payment (ie: so they don’t have to eat credit card/paypal fees)

    This case sounds like it has merit. The buy bought 3 $200 giftcards, not 100 less than a $1 gift cards as our friend (and I use the term loosely) did the Amazon manufactured spending case.

    To me, this sounds like someone at Target is skimming the cards as they are activating them. This is a problem with allowing cashiers to activate cards. Most retailers just cross their fingers and hope for the best. (And this can happen just as easily with a physical card as an emailed one)

  • Altosk

    If he bought it online, yes. If he bought in the store, it is a physical card.

  • Rebecca

    Normally I am totally against these manufactured spending/I bought a gift card paid for with a stolen credit card cases. But, I always say that there COULD be a valid reason you buy $600 in gift cards. So I googled it, because this one wasn’t obvious.

    It’s actually very simple. They run promotions on target.com for gift cards. You get $10-20 off a $100-200 card. Then, if you pay with a redcard (which I have too – it’s an automatic 5% discount on all purchases, which adds up on baby items I buy), you get your additional 5%. Its a perfectly reasonable, valid explanation. They even advertise it this way. Get your $10-20 off, use your redcard for an extra 5%. Absolutely nothing nefarious about it. Please help this guy. He is unfortunately most likely one of those people that honestly did nothing wrong and just got screwed!

  • Pat

    The story says digital gift cards from target.com, so based on that, I am thinking no physical card. Also as another said, they would have gotten 5% off the price if they used a Target Redcard. So this does not look like the manufactured spending of the previous Amazon gift card two cases.

  • Rebecca

    You bring up a good point about PayPal. I googled, and they run online promotions where target gives you $10-20 off a gift card. You add your 5%, and it’s just a way to get a decent discount on something you wouldn’t normally get a discount on. Nothing untoward or sneaky. Target even advertises as “Get $10 off a $100 gift card and use your red card for an additional 5%”.

  • taxed2themax

    I’d take the case — only because it MIGHT have merit.. but you really won”t know that until you’ve got a bit into it.. but.. I think you also need to be fair/smart and acknowledge, the consumer, that IF you detect or have reasonable suspicion that there is an element of fraud or similar, that you won’t be able to materially interact and point them in the direction of resources who would be better positioned.

  • judyserienagy

    Go get ’em, Scrappy! Probably nobody but Chris Elliott could find out what’s REALLY happening with gift cards.

    I’ve never bought or used one, but I’m becoming convinced that the industry is scrambling to stop the fraud bit by bit. As the bad guys figure out new ways to steal, the issuers have to deal with it pronto. There may not be a coherent plan in place to safeguard the buyer/giftee, and they just try to fix problems as they come up. This is NOT a good business plan!

  • judyserienagy

    You mean resources like the District Attorney?

  • taxed2themax

    Perhaps.. I don’t know what resources would be best until more facts are know.. It could be a Prosecuting Attorney/District Attorney’s office.. but again, I think the facts, as Chris finds, them should be the driver here.

  • GG

    I would say take it. First the story sounded a little suspicious on account of all three gift cards being stolen. Then I came across this:

    http://www.tripwire.com/state-of-security/risk-based-security-for-executives/risk-management/gift-card-fraud-how-its-committed-and-why-its-so-lucrative/

    Look at the comments section. Looks like many gift cards bought from Target were compromised. So my vote is take it!

  • KanExplore

    Doesn’t hurt to check into it. There should be an interesting article either way. This is the sort of potential consumer alert situation the website can really be valuable for. The “Here’s what can happen – here’s what to look out for,” kind of situation. If it turns out he was doing something wrong, then all can learn from that too.

  • Kairho

    Ah ha! Yes … this is how they do it, the little weasels!

  • John Baker

    This one intrigues me enough to try and get to the bottom of the story. Something smells fishy in that all three of the cards he bought were used by the same person but they could have been stolen at Target too…

  • MarkKelling

    There are several things you don’t get the discount on. Prepaid and gift cards are one of those.

  • MarkKelling

    If bought in the store, it would not be Target.COM where they are purchased from.

  • Pegtoo

    Wow… I think this may have happened to me recently… on a much smaller scale. I tried to apply the balance of a Disney gift card to my cruise account recently, it should have had approx $33 left on the card, and it showed $0. They tried calling the card “people” to double check the balance, but the phone line was busy, so they gave up, trusted me, and gave me the $33 on my account. (Thank you Disney). I thought it was a computer glitch, but now I wonder if someone stole the value. Bummer for them, I had a handful of other cards that still had the full $50 on them, they only go $33 from this one! (Yes, bought them pre-cruise with Target’s discount offer)

  • LonnieC

    I’d say you should take the case. From many of the other comments it seems that there may well be a legitimate claim here. And no matter which way it goes, let us know. This is a learning moment for us.

  • Ben

    Target often has sales on specific gift cards, including Ebay cards.

    They used to offer a 5% discount for using the Redcard as well, but I think that policy has changed.

  • Extramail

    The story says that they know what PayPal account used the gift card balance. Shouldn’t that be investigated as well?

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    You asked why anyone would buy ebay cards at Target…? I have done something like that. I was in CVS, needed gifts for Christmas, so I purchased several gift cards, one for Star Bucks, one for Target, and another for Amazon. It was easy, I made one purchase, and had the gifts I needed, and a receipt. Another thing about gift cards. I had a friend who was given a gift card as a refund. She tried to used it, and the balance was zero. Turns out her daughter had taken the card, used it, then put it back in her Moms purse. They found it on the Camera at the store where she spent it.

  • redragtopstl

    Costco also has gift cards from other businesses/retailers for sale in its stores, at a discount. So no, it’s not that odd.

  • Tricia K

    Gift cards are a huge problem in the retail industry in that they are an easy way to launder money. They make retailers crazy dealing with it. In this particular instance he says he bought them but did he get, and/or keep the receipt/statement for the purchase? I’ve seen a lot of people throw the slips out not realizing that’s the only proof of purchase you get with gift cards. eBay has confirmed the gift certificates were registered, but it seems not in his account. Forgive my cynicism, but I have to ask:is there someone in the house that might be tempted by a little extra to spend on eBay? My husband and I were all high and mighty with our credit card company when we’re hit with $700 (thereabouts) charge on our account. Our money was tight and we weren’t spending like that. We insisted it had to have been stolen. It was–by our own teenage son. Fortunately they have us a one-time repreive. Figuring out how the money got into the other account(s) will get him a lot closer to a favorable resolution.

  • Mel65

    Our Kroger has periodic specials where you get 3, 4 or 5x the fuel points when you purchase a gift card. On those weekends, people often line up with a half dozen gift cards to various retailers and buy enough to get the maximum monthly fuel points. And $200 each isn’t that much if he or his wife make a lot of eBay purchases. Saves them putting their own credit card accounts at risk for purchases. *shrug* I don’t like to assume people are doing the wrong thing without some evidence of it.

  • Mel65

    I made a return to Target.com and got an email gift card in return… eventually. In the meantime (over a month period) they sent my gift card to a totally different person. It’s possible some bozo at Target somehow sent his card info to someone else or just somehow reissued the same card info twice, I guess…

  • fsum2422

    Interesting, nearly half of you voted for Chris NOT to take the case? WTH? Why? Chris helped me resolve an issue with Priceline.com… be it not for his wit and professionalism, I’d be stuck with $500 of worthless hotel stays! Point is, Chris is the man and none of you are so why vote for him to run away?

    Thank you again, Chris!!

  • DChamp56

    I voted to take the case, if not just to find out who’s telling the truth.

  • If you still have the card, you can check it at DisneyGiftCard.com and see what the transaction history was. I always transfer any funds from a Disney gift card I buy from Target or in store to one I purchased directly from Disney and had mailed to me. If I am keeping the money long term, I transfer the money to a Disney Vacation Account which is FDIC insured.

  • AAGK

    So what? If Target sold a valueless card then it should reimburse the consumer. The delivery method is irrelevant.

  • AAGK

    Why was my comment removed? I agreed with the consumer. Moderator?

  • Grant Ritchie

    No idea. I’m looking into it, and will send you a private email.