Ever Used A Gift Card At Buy.com? Surprise, You May Owe Them Money

Seth was recently contacted by Buy.com and told that due to an error, an order he placed over a year ago had a balance due. They’ll be debiting his credit card “on or about 09/22/08.” Seth emailed them back to ask why they were just now settling the billing issue—surely it hadn’t taken them this long to notice it. Apparently, it had, and it’s not just Seth’s account that’s messed up.

When Seth emailed to ask why they were just now contacting him, he received this surprising response (emphasis ours):

A software glitch prevented Buy.com from billing some customers over the last couple of years. Buy.com is going to bill them soon. The only customers that were affected by this were those who used partial payment with a GC and then paid the balance with their Credit Cards (which were never really charged).

So there ya go: if you used a gift card at Buy.com in the “last couple of years” and settled the difference with a credit card, Buy.com may be hitting your account later this month in an attempt to finally get their books straight.

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. vpsychward1 says:

    What kind of a company lets this happen for years…other than Buy.com?

    This is ridiculous. I wish I had been one of those people and used a prepaid credit card. Then I’d be getting free stuff.

    Well….more free stuff than the Google Checkout thing allowed.

  2. eskimo81 says:

    After a certain point, it’s there loss and I’d tell them to stick it.

    A year later, tough shit for them.

  3. Major-General says:

    Umm, isn’t there some sort of statue of limitations?

  4. Norcross says:

    i’d be worried that they have everyone’s card info on file after all those years. granted, I wonder how many are closed / new numbers / new expiration dates / new mailing address / etc. and won’t go through anyway

  5. I could be wrong, but this may be a violation of Visa and MasterCard terms. I think they have to charge you or correct a charge within a certain amount of time.

    I highly doubt Buy.com will be processing these charges as part of your transaction from more than a year ago (or more) and this should tell you something. I’m not sure they can. And if it appears as a wholly new charge with a recent date then it is probably not kosher.

    I am guessing this falls under “let’s see if this we can get away with this” advice from someone in accounting.

    • christoj879 says:

      @twophrasebark: I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere in my merchant agreement. If you don’t process within x number of days (for some reason 180 sticks out in my head but I’m sure it’s fewer), Visa/MC/Discover/Amex aren’t under any obligation to pay and can perform a chargeback, or the cardholder can perform a chargeback and win. Something along those lines.

  6. SuffolkHouse says:

    Franlky, I’m surprised Buy.Con is still in business. They almost ruined a Christmas on me, claiming items were in stock that weren’t, over-charging, making it impossible to get humans from the states on the phone, telling me things were in transit, when they weren’t pulled from the shelves yet. Just utter bullshit.

    And if you go to a retail rating website, Buy.con always gets wretched ratings.

    Seems Buy.con has figured out that people only want low prices, and are willing to be lied to and actually not get the product for the sake of the satisfaction that the price is the lowest.

  7. levenhopper says:

    Would a chargeback work on this? Because you aren’t getting any products or goods for this charge. It should have taken place long-ago.

  8. DeltaTee says:

    I’m surprised that it has taken them two years to find out there is a problem, but if you agreed to the charge, I don’t think that there will be much of a chance to contest it. Since I actually put all of my charges into Quicken when they occur, I can note when charges I made don’t actually get charged to my account (there have been a few). It’s not a “surprise”–you knew you owed them money and just never got charged for it.

    Would everyone still be pro-consumer if the shoe was on the other foot and after two years a personal audit indicated they should have a credit on an account? Or would the sentiment be that the consumer should have kept better records and “too bad for you”. If two years is too long, what is an appropriate length of time?

  9. Is this a good reason to get one of those throwaway numbers when ordering from some online merchants? If you get one of those, can they charge your “real” number later?

  10. yasth says:

    Throwaway numbers have less protection than people think. ($ and time limits are evadable) In this case though, they should protect you.

    (As does my normal practice of canceling a credit card after a year, I mean really, you’d be shocked at the amount of repeating fees that can end up getting billed.)

  11. thebluepill says:

    Wonder if they will wind up turning customers over to collections over these?

  12. Yeah, I’m just going to add that I would automatically dispute any of these charges.

    You say: I don’t know what this is from.

    Buy.com says: It’s from a year ago or more.

    Visa/MC says: Ha ha ha ha.

  13. PinkBox says:

    I had to report Buy.com to the BBB last year to get them to finally handle something that was their mistake to begin with. I’ll never deal with them again.

  14. Gokuhouse says:

    Most people would have checked their CC to make sure that money was actually taken out. Seems kinda underhanded of these consumers to not notice and say something.

    • Taed says:

      @Gokuhouse: I disagree. I agree that some people might notice, but I don’t think that most would. I also don’t think that it implies that the consumers were being “underhanded” — I imagine that they’ve gotten many calls saying that they’d never been billed and that Buy.com’s customer service assures them that the billing department doesn’t lose track of its bills and that they’ll be billed on their next statement.

      Personally, I buy a lot of stuff with my credit card (both online and in person), and while I scan my statement every month to make sure there’s nothing “extra” on there, I don’t think that I would notice a MISSING charge, unless it were particularly large and/or memorable. Even if I did notice, I would attribute it to their billing and assume that they’d bill me in the near future and it would show up on my next credit card statement, by which point, I surely would have forgotten about it.

    • Zeniq says:

      @Gokuhouse:
      Even if everyone checked all their statements all the time, who is going to call a company up and say “Hey, you didn’t charge my card, I just thought i’d remind you to take what is yours, you know, because you’re too disorganized to notice that your system is screwed up.”???

      • dveight says:

        @Zeniq: I did. I purchased an mp3 player from OfficeDepot that was stolen within 72 hours; my fault, left my car unlocked. Called AMX to see if there was anything they would do, and they came through, saying that since I was “in good standing” they would issue me a credit for the replacement. So I bought another one from OfficeDepot online, picked it up at the stored, and waited….and waited…and waited for them to charge my credit card. 2 weeks pasted and still no charge. Since AMX was only going to credit me if this showed up again on my bill, I had to call Office Depot online support, which was some call center in India and tell them, that I’ve already gotten the item and that I needed for them to actually charge my credit card. Probably the only time that I have ever wanted someone to charge me!

    • Zeniq says:

      @Gokuhouse:
      In addition, if you use your card a lot, it may be difficult to remember when and where you used it. I admit that this may not be the best way to manage a credit card, but still, this is how some of the population does it.

    • t325 says:

      @Gokuhouse: I bought a $300 Kitchen Aid mixer (I’d never spend that much on one, it was a gift) at Linens N Things (or maybe it was Bed Bath and Beyond, one of those) and my MasterCard was never charged. I saw the authorization, after a few days, that went away, and it was never converted into a charge. Here I am a few years later, and they still haven’t charged my card and I’m certainly not expecting them to now.

  15. Ouze says:

    @ gokuhouse – A little slow. Usually the “blame the consumer” comes in the first 10 comments, but 14 is still a pretty good show.

    I don’t think I actively check all my statements, reconciling what actually arrived and what didn’t, and then performing followup on on the things that did arrive along with the invoices showing i was billed and cross referencing my account to make sure I was charged. I really never ascribed that to malice so much as, you know, a reasonable assumption nearly every american in the country probably makes.

  16. blackmage439 says:

    One word: chargeback.

    As far as the customer is concerned, their obligation to pay the merchant ends when their receipt says “zero balance due”. It’s not the customer’s fault that Buy.com had [has?] an archaic billing system incapable of properly processing gift cards, that they let languish for over a year. If the company knew about this glaring error, they should have suspended acceptance of gift cards until they repaired their backasswards system.

    Seriously, if you notice a fraudulent charge from Buy.com, do not hesitate to treat it as such. Call up Buy.com, and give them a good thrashing. Next, call your credit card company (or bank), claim “fraud!”, and file a chargeback (with banks, they’ll just have to reverse the charge). If Buy.com receives enough chargebacks, it will create a black mark on their record the size of a solar eclipse. THAT will teach them a lesson in proper business management.

    On a personal note, the only business transaction I have had with Buy.com was easy, flawless, and only involved a credit card. Still, I’ll have an eagle eye on my statement next month.

  17. I had a problem along similar lines three years ago. I was billed and then returned an item. Then a year later was rebilled for the transaction. I called my bank (the card issuer) and they did a chargeback. Didn’t even require proof, since the original transaction date was more than 181 days before the second charge.

  18. oops. Forgot to add that the transaction was NOT with BUY.COM, but with a local merchant when I lived in California.

  19. Pylon83 says:

    A chargeback in this situation would likely result in Buy.com sending you to collections, in similar fashion to companies that send ALL chargeback customers to collections. Just because Visa/MC/Amex agrees with you and refuses to pay it doesn’t mean that you no longer owe the debt. Yeah, maybe the screwed up, but I don’t think that relives you of your obligation to pay them. Think about it this way: you pay someone with a check. They lose that check, so the money is never deducted from your account. If they come back and ask for another check, you are likely obligated to give them one. The only situation in which I think your obligation absolutely ends when the exchange takes place is with cash or certified funds (cashiers check, etc.). If they lose the cash, their done because you would be out more money if you paid them again. In this situation, just as with a check, you are out nothing but a little bit of time to “pay” them again.

    • @Pylon83: “A chargeback in this situation would likely result in Buy.com sending you to collections, in similar fashion to companies that send ALL chargeback customers to collections. Just because Visa/MC/Amex agrees with you and refuses to pay it doesn’t mean that you no longer owe the debt”

      That’s incorrect. If you accept Visa/MC, you cannot send a chargeback you lost to collections. Visa/MC is the arbiter of whether or not the customer owes you the money.

      While once in awhile you hear of a misinformed or shady company doing this, you will never heard of a major company doing it.

  20. usmcmoran says:

    buy.com=crooks, i bought a 1gb sd card last year from them for 30 bucks with a $30 rebate, he rebate wasnt funded because the sd card company went out of business and buy.com told me to go pound sand.

    • Pylon83 says:

      @usmcmoran:
      So you expected them to give you a free SD card because the company offering the rebate went out of business? Pretty illogical reason to believe they are crooks. Rebates are always at least a little bit of a risk, but when they are not offered by the company from which you purchase the product, you can’t expect said company to honor the rebate if the rebate-offering company goes under.

      • Parting says:

        @Pylon83: Depends. If Buy.com knew beforehand that the SD’s company went out of business, but still advertised the rebate… That’s unethical and that’s fraud.

        • Pylon83 says:

          @Victo:
          I would guess that it’s highly unlikely that buy.com knew that the company was out of business. The posted didn’t say whether they were out of business at the time he bought it, or just at the time he sent in the rebate. Large companies are unlikely to engage of that kind of blatant fraud. Usually the fraud the engage is is much more carefully thought out and covered up well.

  21. whitefang2000 says:

    this is just sloppy on Buy.com. If I got something for free unethically I would not feel comfortable about it, but I think waiting a year to follow up on it is just unprofessional on the part of Buy.com

  22. chrisjames says:

    So what? They’re collecting money owed them. If you found that Buy.com had double-charged you a year ago for, say, an extra $500, you’d be settling the books too.

    There’s no Statute of Limitations for trying to collect money directly, only that they couldn’t take you to court after a certain time (or perhaps sic collections on you). Maybe they would try that though, so I’d stick with the rule-of-thumb two years expiration on this one.

    Credit card rules and agreements are different, and enforced differently. It would be better to call your credit card company directly and discuss your options with them if you really feel like you should get away without paying for what you bought (or are forced to, financially maybe, which is a better reason).

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      So what? They’re collecting money owed them. If you found that Buy.com had double-charged you a year ago for, say, an extra $500, you’d be settling the books too.

      @chrisjames: But the consumer can’t yank the money right out of the company’s pocket without notice.

      There’s a limit on how long consumers have to dispute charges and that should be the same amount of time a company has to fix a charge (if it isn’t already the case).

      • msbask says:

        @Rectilinear Propagation: But they’re not yanking the money out of the consumer’s pocket without notice. Isn’t that what this post is about? The OP got a notice (email? phone call? letter?) that buy.com would be charging him on the 22nd… which isn’t for another week.

        I know it’s an unpopular opinion, and I know buy.com sucks and should have kept better track, but… he owes them the money.

        • Rectilinear Propagation says:

          @msbask: OK, “little” notice then.

          …but… he owes them the money.
          If you owe me money does that make it OK for me to break into your bank account and just take it?

          What happened to sending a bill to people who owe you money?

      • chrisjames says:

        @Rectilinear Propagation: Definitely, but that’s a different issue, though not unrelated. The buyer often has very little recourse when a transaction goes awry, hence “buyer beware” and its many interpretations. The Consumerist is helping inform the credit card users that they have options, like the chargeback, which does yank money right out of the company’s pocket, though maybe not instantly or without notice. We have little problem with someone attempting a chargeback on a year-old faulty charge, though not without a little ragging first (“why’d you wait so long?”), assuming that’s possible.

        A company should, reasonably, deserve the same chance, right? A little brow-furrowing, head-shaking, and a tsk-tsk is right, but suggesting Buy.com should just suck it up and write off potentially a lot of money as a “whoopsie” is too one-sided.

  23. Stile4aly says:

    If they charge you, then contact your bank and request a chargeback based on “compliance.” The merchant is processing the transaction in an untimely manner, and they are out of compliance with their merchant agreement.

  24. Raanne says:

    If you authorized the credit card transaction, why does it matter that they are waiting a year to complete it? you still authorized it…

  25. DarkForest says:

    I’ve bought a few external hard drives/flash drives from Buy.com over the years (when they were on sale) and have never had a problem. As for retail rating websites, I find that most sites get terrible reviews if only because people who experienced problems are FAR more likely to post reviews.

    Despite all the legal-speak of statute of limitations etc, at the end of the day the customer still owes Buy.com money. They should pay up if *only* for fairness sake.

    Also, lets not forget that this problem only affects a few people. Who buys buy.com gift cards, anyway?

  26. Ouze says:

    @raanne – i have a hard time believe anyone is seriously putting forth that as a legitimate argument and not out and out trolling. Nevertheless, one of the reasons it matters is because if you have some kind of financial emergency, and you only have like $50 in your checking account/credit limit, and then 5 transactions from a year ago for $50 each go through, you are looking at an enormous amount of overdrafts. There are a million reasons any rational person would have a problem with mystery charges floating around for an unknown amount of time, longer then 90 days – it makes it virtually impossible for someone to manage their finances with that kind of nonsense.

    It’s also illegal, anyway. There is indeed a statue of limitations on how long can pass on such a transaction – You can see a state by state chart here. Look, they even explicitly reference credit cards.

    [www.creditinfocenter.com]

    • Pylon83 says:

      @Ouze:
      The fact that they can no longer process the credit card charge does not extinguish the underlying debt. Just because they may not be able to defend a chargeback doesn’t mean they can’t pursue collection through other methods, such as a collection agency or the courts. Further, the kinds of “emergencies” that you put forth (only having $x and having old charges go through) would not be a problem if people balanced their accounts, like one used to balance a checkbook. I’ll admit that I don’t do this, and I imagine most people don’t, but that doesn’t make not doing so responsible. Because I don’t take the time to thoroughly balance my accounts, I’d never notice a small unauthorized charge, and I’d never notice if I didn’t get charged for something. These are the risks one takes in the name of efficiency, but one shouldn’t get to fall back on the efficiency of such risks, or even their widespread use, as a reason to not pay a debt that is owed. Assuming that buy.com provided enough detail in their notice for the consumer to accurately locate the transaction, or lack thereof, in their records, they are right here. I will, however, concede that their attempt to possibly improperly charge the cards (outside the statutory or merchant rules limites) is a bit shady. I suppose it was a business decision that they have made, after determining the amount of chargebacks from this method is less than the amount of people that simply wouldn’t pay if they sent out letters saying “please send us a check.” I can respect the decision, but don’t necessarily agree with it.

    • chrisjames says:

      @Ouze: Unless I’m wrong: those are SOLs for collections and filing suit only; it does explicitly state the debt is not canceled after the expiration; they’re in years and the shortest credit card SOL is three years (crazy long!); and the SOL begins six months after you’ve paid your last CC bill, which may also suggest the charge must actually appear on your credit card for this to apply, otherwise it may be “anything goes” (also, you may not be able to sue or defend over a credit card debt for a specific charge under this, only the whole debt).

    • dragonvpm says:

      @Ouze: There are a million reasons any rational person would have a problem with mystery charges floating around for an unknown amount of time, longer then 90 days – it makes it virtually impossible for someone to manage their finances with that kind of nonsense.

      Uh, who taught you how to balance your books? Completely aside from whether or not people DO balance their checking accounts etc… you’re supposed to keep track of the money you spend and what comes in. So if someone was actually following correct basic bookkeeping procedure, they’d end up wondering why there was an extra $X in their checking account or why their card showed that the balance was $X less than it should have been.

      It is not “virtually impossible” to manage that. First of all it doesn’t happen often and second of all if you track how much you spend etc… you’d see that some transactions hadn’t posted but you would still know you owed the money.

      Granted, my ex’s sister couldn’t have balanced her checkbook to save her life, but that doesn’t mean that’s the correct state of affairs for anyone let along the public at large.

  27. jhurley03 says:

    I know that in Illinois you only have six months to settle your books. He needs to go to his bank and they should be able to tell him if what buy.com is trying to do is legal.

  28. thatguyjr says:

    I think the issue is that when a consumer is overcharged, and they learn of it, when the situation is going to be rectified, the consumer has to fight for it. They’ve got to locate the bill, the proof that they paid, the proof they were charged extra, and then communicate these issues to a CSR in hopes that the first one they speak to can help and will believe them. It’s a battle when this happens to the consumer.

    Now, we’ve got that the business has undercharged several people, and Buy.com just decided to pull the money from everyone this happened to with only a week’s notice. There’s no other communication with the customer, that’s it. They don’t have to prove that you weren’t billed, they don’t have to call you to talk to you about the problem, they just did it. Of course, most consumers will let this slide, but let’s be honest, these terms aren’t fair, and there needs to be some sort of gift or something to the people this happened to to say Buy.com is sorry, and that they don’t intend to let this problem happen again. A press release needs to be issued verifying that the mistake made has been fixed, and there are processes currently implemented to make sure of it.

    There’s not, and that’s just a bad show for a business that large.

  29. Onouris says:

    Is it actually physically possible to do this? I didn’t think banks would let companies go near without a recent transaction. I’m pretty sure if one of the companies I bought something from decided to take money now my bank would give them directions to the nearest damp dark place.

    Or, I hope it would, but it does suck so who knows.

    • orlo says:

      @Onouris: The new charge is a recent transaction. Anyone can charge you at any time. Your only recourse is to report it as fraudulent. Which in this case would be a fraudulent report. At least Buy.com gives you time to close card account.

  30. shenanigrams says:

    am i mistaken or did you not OWE them the f**king money? just because they didn’t charge it all then doesn’t mean you should not pay them.

    i hate people who don’t pay for stuff.

    pay up and stop being a jerk.

  31. AD8BC says:

    This is certainly bad form by Buy.com. They should, at the least, offer up something nice to these customers, maybe meet them halfway with store credit or forgive the debt to those who call and complain. Although the customers may legally owe the money, it is legitimate to complain about the timing. I like to balance my books monthly and it would pi$$ me off if this happened frequently.

    That being said, I am a loyal customer of Buy.com — I just bought a new computer monitor from them last week. I personally have nothing but praise for them — when I choose the free budget shipping with a 7-9 day ETA my package always shows up in 2 business days. They accept returns with very little hassle and free pre-paid return shipping labels. And their prices are right.

    But every company will eventually pi$$ someone off, I suppose. If I listened to everybody’s opinions on this blog about who not to do business with, then I suppose I would end up never buying anything.

  32. Bruce says:

    It pays to know the relevant law as it applies to a situation such as this. The law, credit card merchant agreement and/or the card holder agreement may reduce the window of opportunity that a merchant may have to recover funds from incomplete transactions in the past. Read your card holder agreement and contact your financial institution that issued your card for further guidance.

    “Uniform Commercial Code (UCC):
    Law that governs the sale of goods and credit transactions separate from the civil and criminal laws. Covers the sale and distribution of goods, negotiable instruments, and the financing of credit transactions on the security of the goods sold.”

    “Sale of goods under the Uniform Commercial Code:
    Transactions for the sale (and leasing) of goods is governed mainly by sales laws of each state. Every state, with the exception of Louisiana, has adopted, Article Two of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) as the main body of law regulating transactions in goods. Goods are defined as all things movable and identified to the contract of the sale. It does not include secured transactions, leases, money exchanged as the price, or real property (land and property permanently attached to a piece of land). To be identified to the contract a good must be existing and one of the objects that is or will be exchanged. Transactions between merchants and consumers and those solely between merchants are regulated by Part Two. All transactions that are for more that $500 must be in writing.”

    Sources:

    [www.fair-debt-collection.com]

    Article Two of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC):

    [www.law.cornell.edu]

  33. austinchu says:

    Amazing. It really makes you wonder, what they are doing over there…

  34. wcnghj says:

    Call your credit card company and say the was lost, they will send a new one with a new number.

  35. octajohnny says:

    this almost happened to me. I’ve had a buy.com visa card since 1999, and for some reason, on May 26th, 2000, for some reason, like 75+ transactions occurred with my rewards that they gave me +31 rewards dollars (here’s a brief excerpt of my history – the final # is how many rewards dollars I had in my account to use).

    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 65
    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 96
    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 127
    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 158
    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 189
    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 220
    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 251
    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 282
    5/26/2000 Buy.Visa May Statement +31 313

    and they didn’t catch it until 2004:
    6/30/2004 Buy.Visa June Statement -2666 -248

    I wasn’t quite saavy on how to view my points online at the time, else I probably would have used em right up (well, buy.com had a max redemption of 1000 dollars per year then).

    I got away with the -248, as the next month they just reset my balance to $0, so hopefully that doesn’t come back to bite me in the arse.

  36. junip says:

    I’m surprised how many people here are so worked up saying that the customer technically owes the money and should therefore be fine with it being taken from them over a year later. Regardless of what you may think is fair, the company made a mistake, and mistakes do not come without consequences. If they failed to charge the cards in a timely manner, they don’t get to come back a year later and take it. They made the mistake, and they should accept the consequences, learn from it, and move on. OR, if they’re truly that incompetent all the time, they should go out of business and cease their poor business practices in doing so.

  37. BeThisWay says:

    @Zeniq
    Even if everyone checked all their statements all the time, who is going to call a company up and say “Hey, you didn’t charge my card, I just thought i’d remind you to take what is yours, you know, because you’re too disorganized to notice that your system is screwed up.”???

    Um, people with integrity.

    I’m not saying it’s not wicked screwed up that they took this long to bill, but the right thing to do would be to pay what you owe.

    I know most people won’t do that, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

  38. BeThisWay says:

    I also want to add that I agree that the company should not just put through the charge. They should ask people to pay what they owe, with a new authorization, and write off those that don’t.

  39. Fegnomashic says:

    I also got the same email from a purchase from Jan 12 2007.
    The strange thing about the whole problem is that for some reason I owe them approximately $8.00 for a $72 purchase. What bother’s me about it is how they come up with the $8.00. I didn’t buy anything for $8.00 on that purchase so I don’t know how my card plus my gift card were used to make the total purchase.

    For me it is not about the dollar amount but the time and manner in which Buy.com addressed it. I can see addressing it in 3 months or less but over 18 months…. That is not good business. I will never purchase from them again.

  40. YankeeSR23 says:

    I am surprised Buy.com is still in business. I ordered some VHS tapes from them years ago and they sent me the wrong items and refused to admit they were the wrong items so I was stuck with GI Joe tapes when I wanted Transformers tapes.

    Took my aggression out on them with a hammer and it felt so good.

    I wish the people that advertised for them knew how bad they are. I hated seeing Howie ads for a bad product.

  41. ajlei says:

    I don’t know about you guys who are saying you wouldn’t call up the company, and maybe Buy.com has too much of a bad rap to repay them, but I was once undercharged by woot.com and I emailed them to let them know. It’s just good karma (usually).

    And.. for everyone who’s saying that Buy.com should eat their loss, we all know you wouldn’t tolerate it if you sold someone something and they didn’t pay and a year later they said “sorry! your loss!”.