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Gift cards are a wonderful present for almost anyone, and have been at the top of wish lists for years – both during the holidays, and all-year-round. They are fun, customizable, and flexible – and allow recipients to choose their own gifts. This makes it easier for you to get the right thing for a friend, colleague, or loved one.

Best of all, gift cards are usually very easy to use. Whether you have a gift card from an “open-loop” vendor such as VISA or MasterCard, or you have a gift card from a store that sells Target gift cards or sells GAP gift cards, it’s as easy as swiping them – and making your purchase. Right?

Well, not always. 99% of the time, your gift card will work perfectly at the checkout register, or when you go to use it online. But there are always exceptions to every rule – and if your gift card doesn’t work when you try to use it, you may not be sure what to do. Should you call customer service? Ask for a refund? Contact the store where you bought it?

Don’t worry. We’re here with a quick guide on what to do if you have a gift card that is not working – and the steps you can take to make sure you don’t accidentally buy a gift card that won’t work.

Gift Card Is Declined

Gift cards do get declined, every once in a while. This is more common with “open-loop” gift cards like VISA and American Express gift cards, which function more like debit cards. They have more complex payment processing systems, and may require additional activation steps and other “fine print” to get started.

Here are some of the most common reasons your gift card may be declined.

  • Gift card requires second-step activation – This is rare for store gift cards. A store that sells Apple Store gift cards, for example, won’t usually require second-step activation. The gift card will be activated as soon as it is scanned at the register, and the purchase is processed.

    However, if you buy gift cards online from major retailers, they may send the card to you without it being activated. This prevents fraud, because anyone who steals your mail, or accidentally gets your gift card will not be able to use it. Check your email or receipt to see how you should activate the gift card.

    This is also usually a mandatory step for VISA gift cards and other open-loop cards. When you get the card, look for a link to an activation website, and enter the proper information to activate your gift card, and start using it.
  • Transaction will “overdraft” your card – This only happens with open-loop cards. Most modern POS systems can handle multiple types of payment if you are using gift cards. You can buy $100 worth of items, and pay for $75 of your purchase with a store gift card, then pay for the rest however you want.

    This doesn’t work with VISA gift cards and other open-loop cards, though. Because they work like debit cards, the cardholder will think that you’re “overdrafting” if you try to purchase items that cost more than the value of the card – even if you’re just $0.01 over the limit.

    To avoid this, make note of how much money is left on your open-loop card every time you use it. Then, simply ask your cashier to run the card for that exact value. The payment will go through, and then you can pay for the rest of your items however you choose.
  • Gift card has expired – Usually, this is not a problem for new gift cards. Gift cards, by law, can only expire 5 years after they are issued, and some states like California do not allow gift cards to expire at all.

    However, there is an exception. “Bonus” gift cards that are given as rewards – such as in “Buy $100 of items, get a $20 gift card” are not considered traditional gift cards, by law. They can expire within just a few weeks or months of being issued.

    To avoid this issue, make sure that you read the fine print closely on all gift cards that you buy – and on any gift cards that you receive as a promotional bonus.

Gift Card Shows Zero Balance

Do you have a gift card that should have a certain amount of money – but it shows a balance of $0? Here are some of the most common reasons that your gift card may show zero balance.

  • Gift card has not been activated properly – This can be an issue if you buy a gift card at a store. A store that sells Nordstrom gift cards may simply have failed to activate your gift card when you bought it.

    The cashier may simply have missed it, and tossed it into your bag anyway, unactivated. This means that it is not worth anything – but you also didn’t have to pay for it. Check your receipt. If you don’t see a charge that’s related to the gift card, or any information about gift card activation, your gift card may simply have been missed during the transaction – and it won’t have any value.
  • Gift card has been drained by fraudulent activity – If your gift card used to have a large balance, but you have checked it recently and that balance has fallen to $0, chances are that you were a victim of gift card fraud.

    One of the most common types of gift card fraud involves fraudsters taking photos of gift cards, or using electronic devices to scan them and get the number of the gift card while they are in the store. Then, they replace the gift cards.

    They store this information, and use computer programs to check whether or not any of these gift cards have been activated. Once a gift card is activated by a legitimate customer they spend its balance immediately.

    To avoid this problem, it’s best to follow a few best practices when buying and using gift cards. First, buy gift cards that are either behind cash registers, or in clear view of store employees. These gift cards are less likely to be targeted by scammers. If possible, buy gift cards that are held within locked display cases.

    You should also try to spend your gift cards as soon as you can. Scammers usually require a few days to check all of their stolen numbers, and see if gift cards have been activated. Spending your gift card right away lets you “beat them to the punch”, even if they do have information about your card.

    Another good tip is to avoid gift cards that look like they have already been handled. Examine a gift card to see if it was removed from its holder, if there are any scratches, or if there is a PIN number that has been scratched away. Never buy a gift card that has any of these flaws.
  • Gift card was purchased from disreputable seller online – Buying gift cards on websites like eBay can be very dangerous. Often, there is no way to check whether or not a gift card is valid before you buy it – so many people have gotten scammed by bidding on gift cards, and receiving an activated – but empty – gift card.

    To avoid this, you must purchase resold gift cards only from qualified, reliable companies, such as EJ Gift Cards. We check all of our cards for validity, and have never sold a valueless card to any of our customers.
  • Gift card has expired – A gift card may have a balance of $0 if it expires before you can use it. This may be an issue if you buy a resold gift card that is near its expiration date, but it is pretty uncommon for new gift cards. The exception is, of course, “bonus” gift cards which can expire very quickly.

Gift Card Is Unactivated

If you go to check the balance on a gift card, and you can’t do so at all, or you try to check out and your gift card doesn’t work, it might not be activated at all. Here are a few common reasons that this might happen to you.

  • The gift card was missed during checkout – Sometimes, gift cards slip past cashiers, and are not activated properly. This is also a common reason that your gift card might not work, even if it should – as mentioned in our first section.

    If your gift card is not activated at checkout, it simply won’t work – it has no value stored on it. The good news is that you probably did not get charged for your gift card, so there is no real damage done – check your receipt to make sure that you did not pay for the unactivated gift card. Then, you can just buy a new gift card, or inform the person who sold you the gift card that it was never activated.
  • Checkout fraud – While this is rare, it has happened in the past at some major retailers. This is a type of “bait-and-switch” fraud, perpetrated by cashiers. The process is quite simple.

    First, you try to check out with a gift card. You load it up with the proper amount of funds, and the cashier scans it to activate it. At this point, the gift card is fully operational, and can be redeemed for store merchandise.

    Next, the cashier will try to distract you somehow, and they will “swap” your activated gift card with an unactivated, identical gift card. They keep the activated card, and then hand you an inactive gift card.

    By doing so, they essentially pocket your cash – without there being any discrepancy in their sales, or their “till.” There is evidence that some fraudsters have racked up thousands of dollars by doing this.

    The good news is that this scheme is easy to recognize. Your receipt should have information about your gift card printed on it, whenever a gift card is activated. If you think that you might be the victim of this scam, compare your gift card’s number to the number on the receipt. If they differ, you may be the victim of a scam.

    You should contact the store right away to tell them about this. You will have the date and time of your transaction on your receipt, and you may even have the name of the cashier who sold you the card – so it will be easy to bring them to justice.
  • Gift card was sold to you unactivated by a third-party seller – Buying gift cards online is usually safe, but only if you shop with legitimate gift card sellers such as EJ Gift Cards. If you buy gift cards from eBay or Craigslist, for example, they may be unactivated, or could have already had their balances used.

    A fraudster could just walk into a store and steal a bunch of inactive gift cards – because they have no value until they are activated, they are usually not monitored closely, and do not set off anti-theft detectors. Then, using an illegitimate website, they will sell these stolen cards to consumers.

    They usually can’t get away with this for long, but by varying the identity and addresses they use, they can easily steal thousands of dollars with fraudulent cards. To avoid this issue, shop only from third-party gift card resellers that verify the balances and value of gift cards – such as EJ Gift Cards!

Follow Our Tips – Know How To Deal With These Common Issues!

With this guide, you’re sure to be able to figure out why your new gift card is not working. Follow our tips for preventing these problems, and you’ll be able to shop with confidence, knowing that your gift cards will work perfectly!

And if you have gift cards you’d like to sell – or you would like to buy discounted gift cards – come to EJ Gift Cards now! We buy and sell gift cards online from hundreds of different brands, and we check each and every card on our market to ensure that they are activated, and have the proper balance.

With EJ Gift Cards, you can buy gift cards online and sell gift cards with confidence. Get started today, and see how much you can save by using our services!