The Amazing Disappearing American Express Gift Card

D. wants to solve the Mystery of the Disappearing American Express Gift Card. He didn’t receive it for Christmas, but got it from a computer parts rebate. He mailed in this rebate so long ago that he doesn’t actually remember what year it was: maybe 2010, maybe 2011. A mysterious prepaid gift card from American Express showed up in his mailbox in late 2012, but was missing half of its balance. Where did it go? If only he could get AmEx to tell him.

I bought a computer some time ago at Fry’s Electronics here in Washington state (there’s only one in the state, heh). I took advantage of their assembly services, buying the parts in-store then paying for assembly and software install. But Fry’s isn’t the problem here.

Among the parts was one made by Thermaltake, that had a $20 rebate on it. My mother and I filled out the paperwork, and mailed off the rebate claim sometime in 2010 or 2011. And never heard from Thermaltake again. Until November of 2012.

A few days before Thanksgiving 2012, a $20 prepaid card from American Express arrived in the mail. It seemed to be from Thermaltake, but my mother and I were a bit wary of using a credit card that simply shows up on the doorstep so my mother did some investigation but got nowhere. So she handed the card and letter to me the day after Christmas, and I did a little investigation too. It turned out to be legit, but there was a problem.

Naturally, while investigating, I checked for card balance. And the $20 card showed a $10 balance with a 5 month history of $2 service fees. That was odd for a newly issued rebate card. So I tried looking up the card holder agreement. The paper the card arrived glued to had a paragraph of fine print on it, that mentioned a $2 service fee per month, but also that it would be waived for the first 12 months after receipt of card by cardholder. Since today was a little over a month since receipt, that was obviously wrong.

The paper also said that the paragraph wasn’t the full agreement, and to call the number on the card to get the full agreement. So I did so. And wound up talking to someone with a thick Indian accent who mumbled into the phone. He informed me that I had been provided the cardholder agreement with my card, therefore he would not be sending me any information. He informed me that the 12 months started at the issuance of the card, which was in August of 2011 according to his records and that American Express had mailed the card directly to the recipient; Yes, he really did assert that the card took 13 months to make it through the mail. Note that if it HAD been issued in August of 2011 and the timer started at card issue rather than the receipt specified in the fine print, the $2 fees would have started in September of 2012, which would have been $8 worth of $2 monthly fees, not $10.

He then told me that I was welcome to speak to a supervisor, but the supervisor wouldn’t be able to help me either. I asked to speak to the supervisor anyway.

The supervisor had an even thicker accent, and not only mumbled but whispered. I usually have no trouble with Indian accents, but these two were apparently hand-selected for being incomprehensible, to go by their speech patterns. The supervisor regurgitated the same script, word for word as the first guy, and when I asked if anyone in the escalation tree COULD help me, I was informed that no, no one could. I asked to either be sent a copy of the cardholder agreement or be directed to where I could find it online, and was refused because I already had it, it came with the card, etc etc.

Except…if the fine print that came with the card was the actual cardholder agreement, then they owed me $10 worth of improperly taken service fees, since I had received the card in the mail less than 30 days previous to the phone call.

I tried the general American Express contact number from Consumerist’s company directory, and got a nice, clear unaccented English speaking CSR. But as soon as I described the sort of card I had, I got transferred to someone with a thick Indian accent…who mumbled. It seriously sounded like the same guy from before.

I did find cardholder agreements on the American Express website, but my card type is not available in the menu. You can search by card number, but my card number generates an error message from the system. No go there.

Perhaps the bulk mail system really is messed up enough that a simple gift card envelope spent more than a year tangled up in the system. They should have put it in a box.