Manufactured Spending

What Happens When Your Online Gift Card Order Gets Stolen?

I’ve written at length about the importance of being organized and keeping track of gift card churning activities. In the past, I’ve always thought of this as a way to ensure that I didn’t lose any gift cards or on the rare chance that someone would steal them. I didn’t realize how not-rare that occurrence would be until two readers reached out to me in a 2-month period, letting me know it had happened to them. While I have always emphasized the importance of keeping track of everything, I never brought up the possibility of gift cards being stolen en-route. I definitely think that’s important to be aware of.

Manufactured spending by mail

Reader Ivan reached out to me back in February regarding the theft of his order. After not receiving $2,500 worth of gift cards in the mail, he found that the last place it had been tracked to was the U.S. Post Office. This lead him to believe that someone at the post office had intercepted and effectively stolen his gift cards. Ivan tried to resolve the issue with, but they stated it was out of their hands since the balance on those cards had already been spent. Ivan has since filed a dispute with American Express, which generally has a great reputation when it comes to handling fraud-related disputes. 

Following this report, I got another message from a reader named Stephen, saying he had a similar incident. Except, this time it was a $1800 Staples Visa gift card order that had gone missing. Stephen reached out to Staples and once again, they were uncooperative. A Gift Card Mall rep had advised him to file a dispute with his credit card company. When he conveyed this to a Staples customer service representative, they called Staples to open a support ticket. There’s no resolution yet, but I imagine the credit card company is the most reliable arbiter in this scenario.

I find it astounding that these merchants sell cash-equivalent gift cards, yet offer no recourse to customers whose orders end up stolen. That’s especially surprising since these companies are well aware of the many types of fraud involving Visa gift card purchases. It’s one thing for Staples to essentially turn a blind eye to it. Companies like and Gift Card Mall should really be better prepared to handle these types of thefts. 

Staples’ Visa gift cards are issued by Gift Card Mall, which sends cards and activation codes in separate envelopes. If someone does get a hold of the gift cards , it’s actually not that hard for them to activate them. I know that Gift Card Mall reps will sometimes activate cards even if customers can’t produce the order number. That’s great if you’re a legitimate customer, but not if you’ve had your mailbox raided. 

To make things more confusing, Staples and Gift Card Mall issue two different order numbers. That makes it almost impossible to match up orders for customers who are buying them frequently. How do you know which $1800 Staples order number matches up with the stack of envelopes you just got in the mail? It’s a guessing game.

In these instances, both individuals were able to catch these thefts by properly keeping track of their gift card purchases. I don’t know what the statistics are on gift card thefts. Even if the likelihood is very small, it could happen to you. That’s why it’s so important to track everything, keep notes on which credit cards were used, and have the time to follow up when orders don’t come through in time. 

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Did you successfully recoup your miles?

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  1. What information did these purchases have that allowed them to track the purchase and eventually track the theft? I have not ordered via mail and am not aware of the information provided when purchasing this way. I just want to be prepared in case I am in the same situation. Theft by the USPS employees is very common. During the Christmas season I was warned not to send gift cards via mail, especially to a PO box because they go missing. The USPS will not take any action though the blame couldn’t be placed on anyone else. My gift to a different person never made it to her this year.

  2. I have had theft from Walmart’s visa gift cards twice and tampered gift cards with numbers missing or activation issues a few times as well (green dot?). Target online account hacked all registered gift cards stolen and used in different states. I have gift cards mailed to me as a gift that I never received. I’ve had e-gift cards purchased from Groupon for Target stolen as well. I try to always pay with amex but, if its for a new card I feel very nervous not every company is like amex.

    • Definitely check that the perforated part of the packaging isn’t torn off. That’s a huge red flag that the card has been tampered with. I’ve had my Hyatt gc get hacked into and drained about a year ago. It’s tough – you really gotta liquidate your cards fast and have a way to track these purchases or you’re out of luck.

  3. The GCM VGCs I’ve recently been purchasing come already activated and have no order number within the package. Makes it almost impossible to reconcile the cards against the CC you used to pay for them (when doing multiple orders over several days).

    Is anyone here receiving GCs from GCM NOT already activated and with a order number enclosed? Would be very interested in remedying this situation.

    Thanks in advance!

    • I havne’t ordered from GCM in a long time and can’t decide if this is good or bad news. On one hand, it makes activation/liquidation easier. On the other, it makes it easier for someone to steal the balance.

    • This is how I reconcile the particular GC order with the CC I used and to make sure that I don’t have any straggler orders (it can get tricky when you’re ordering in volume): I choose a different GC design for each one of my orders. Kind of an old school way of doing things but, hey it works. I make a note of which CC I used along with the GC design, date ordered, etc… So that when those GCs start showing up in the mail, I know precisely which one of my orders it corresponds to.

      • Great tip. Only issue is that I target select ‘low profile’ card designs. Will defiantly give your method more thought though. Do you ever receive cards from GCM NOT already activated?

        • By the time they get to me, they’re already active. Unless, GCM messed something up and the cards haven’t been activated yet. When that happens, I need to call them to get it resolved but, that’s not how it’s supposed to happen.

          I cycle through a set of designs I like, so I repeat them eventually. I just make sure my previous order came in before I use the same design again.

      • That’s actually a really good way to go. I did that with orders but it’s tough with Staples since all the cards look the same.

  4. I’m just getting into this. It seems to me that gift card reselling is only profitable when there’s a deal. Is that true? For example, if I go by a $100 starbucks card and then resell it for 88% of the value, I’m losing $12 dollars. But if I get a deal (say there’s a $10 off promotion at Office Depot or something and get 5% cash back), then I’m break even but I still have the points. I see that you often say you make a small profit on these and I’m a little confused as to how that happens. It must be just stacking the special offers and cash back cards? Is there a post you can point me to where you explain how this works?

    • Yes, when it comes to merchant gift cards you want to wait for a good sale. Back in December I actually made a small profit buying Starbucks gift cards from Sam’s Club and reselling them to The Plastic Merchant. For the most part, I’m buying Visa gift cards using cash back credit cards. With cash back portals factored in, I’m able to earn a small profit.

  5. Probably file a complaint with the postmaster of the local post office or call the Post Office inspector line usually on the wall of the post office to file a report at least to add to the credit card dispute.

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