CVS Sells Customer Expired Prepaid Debit Card, Shrugs

Last year, Mike bought a Vanilla Visa prepaid debit card at CVS as a gift for a friend, who promptly forgot that the card existed until about a year later. The card doesn’t work, but not because it’s been dormant for the last year and had its balance eaten up in fees. No, the problem is that this card expired in July 2010, before it was even purchased. CVS never should have sold him this card. Now neither CVS nor Vanilla Visa will take responsibility for the problem, and are even accusing Mike of being a scammer.

I bought a Vanilla Visa $100 gift card at the tail end of 2010 for a friend’s birthday. Gave it to them, and they promptly forgot about it (read: lost it in their house).

Fast forward a year, they found the cart, went to use it, and it was rejected. As it turns out, the card had an expiration date of July 2010, which means it was already expired when I bought it.

I called up Vanilla Visa for a replacement, but they claim that because the card was expired at the time of purchase, it was never activated properly, they can’t replace it, and I have to take it up with CVS.

Calls to CVS have been met with hostility. They tell me that it’s Vanilla Visa’s problem, they can’t do anything about it, I should have called over a year ago after I bought the card, there’s no way the clerk could have made a mistake in ringing it up, etc. One woman even suggested that I found the card and am now trying to scam CVS out of $100. They have thus far refused to look up the purchase history for the card, despite me providing them the date of the card purchase & the store from which it was purchased.

Capital One is telling me it’s too late to do a chargeback, so there’s nothing they can do for me.

So, Consumerist, what options do I have here? I paid $100 (plus the $5.95 activation fee) for this gift card, and my friend can’t use it, nor can I get it replaced. Please help!

Well, a chargeback is out, and filing in small claims court is problematic if you have no evidence of the original purchase. A quick search online shows that Mike is not the only person who has had a problem with Vanilla Visa cards purchased from CVS and other drugstores. Maybe a well-written executive e-mail carpet bomb citing these other customers’ stories might make someone at CVS take notice that something could be wrong


Edit Your Comment

  1. chemmy says:

    cash is king.

  2. DarrenO says:

    Hard to blame CVS here as the OP has no proof he bought an expired card from them over a year ago. Next time either read the card for the expiration or give cash! I don’t know why people think a generic Visa card is “more personal” or “better” than cash. And cash, at least so far, doesn’t expire!

    • NotATool says:

      And cash doesn’t carry a $6 “activation charge” either…

    • vivalakellye says:

      Why wouldn’t he have proof? All he needs to do is go online and look up his old CC or debit card transactions. Boom.

    • PsychoRaven says:

      I have to agree. When purchasing anything that can expire you always have to check the expiration date. It’s a sad but now days you have to be careful with that. IT doesn’t help the purchaser that they waited over a year to bring this to CVS attention. Had he caught it before giving it to the friend maybe they wouldn’t have been so hostile.

      Keep in mind I’m not saying they were right for being so rude to the person. They weren’t. However you can’t blame them for not giving the guy a refund a year after the item was purchased.

    • Difdi says:

      Well, some cash does. Ever heard the $2 bill taco bell story?

    • Mike says:

      OP here. You can’t read the expiration dates on these cards. Take a look at the thumbnail in this story, the packaging obscures all of the numbers and is sealed. You have no way of knowing that you’re buying an expired card without opening the packaging.

  3. Jevia says:

    Did he pay in cash for the card? If not, he should have some record of its purchase (his old bank records for a debit purchase, old credit card statement, etc.) and can make a claim in small claims court. Even if he paid in cash, can’t hurt to file the claim.

    • DarrenO says:

      So exactly how is he going to prove he bought an expired card? Having a receipt is useless unless it has the card number on it.

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        I’m not sure if this is true for all stores, but the couple I’ve worked at that sold these giftcards, the receipt did indeed have information IDing the specific card sold.

      • Jevia says:

        Well, presumably, he can get the gift card back from friend which shows July 2010 expiration, and then he has his proof of purchase (old credit card or debit card statement) with a Nov/Dec 2010 date for the exact amount.

        Yes, CVS can argue he bought two cards, but then he can argue that CVS has the documentation that shows the exact purchase, and if CVS chooses not to produce said documentation to prove he is wrong, guess who wins?

  4. GMFish says:

    Cash, it’s what’s for gifts!

  5. BenJF3 says:

    Moral of the story is don’t use these cards. I never understood why people got these anyway? You have to pay a fee to acquire it and put money on it and most have maintenance fees associated with them. They are a complete waste.

    • BBBB says:

      There are wonderful gift certificates that never expire, can be used anywhere, will survive a ride in the washing machine, and can be purchased at face value with no fees – they are green and are decorated with engravings of important people from US History.

  6. Straspey says:

    This actually provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss an important point of basic “consumerism” –

    We could easily do a “Blame The OP” for not checking the time-stamp on the gift card to ensure it was still valid before purchasing it – but is that his responsibility ?

    Is it the responsibility of a wise consumer to check the “freshness date” on every time-sensitive purchase they may make – or is it the responsibility of the merchant to ensure that all the time-sensitive products it puts on the shelf have not exceeded their expiration date ?

    Do you check the date on the milk carton before placing it into your shopping cart, or do you assume the store always sells fresh milk which has not passed its expiration date ?

    And – who bears the responsibility for that – the consumer, or the merchant ?

    • ace says:

      That is the responsibility of the merchant to label an expiration date for things that expire. The consumer checks the date on the milk to make sure they are not being sold something that is expired, or set to expire in a day or two. We have to do these checks because of the assumed lack of interest from the merchant in protecting the customers. If something is expiring same day or in a day or two, I say it is fair game to sell. If it is already past expiration at the point of sale, the merchant should take full responsibility for selling a unsatisfactory product.

      • consumeristjohnny says:

        Actually no. If I plan to use something int he next two to three days, an expiration date that far out wont matter to me. Some people prefer to plan farther ahead and need longer shelf life. Also, most expired food is not dangerous. It just does not taste as good.
        Of course you could guarantee never having expired products, you just can’t afford to buy very much food. People have accepted some of the responsibility for checking food in exchange for lower prices. Gas, ATM’s, self-serve checkouts are all examples of this.

    • Daggertrout says:

      Milk and other perishable food items are commonly known to have expiration dates.

      Generally, things that don’t rot generally don’t have expiration dates. I would not assume a gift card would expire, at least until after it had been loaded and activated.

    • Dallas_shopper says:

      I always check dates and am consistently disappointed by how much expired dairy is sitting on supermarket shelves in my area. When I find expired dairy products on shelves, I put them in my cart and leave them with the cashier when I check out. I almost always find expired dairy when I visit the dairy section, even at premium supermarkets like Whole Foods and Central Market.

      I’ll use dairy products past their expiration dates at home, but I think there are probably laws in this state that prohibit the sale of already-expired products. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never tried to actually buy expired dairy products.

      But getting back to your original query…yes, I do check dates. Always.

      • phsiii says:

        I put it on the floor in front of the case, so the twit who was supposed to de-stock it finds it. That works at our store (yes, a real twit would just put it back on the shelf!).

        • Dallas_shopper says:

          The dairy cases around here aren’t really cases per se…they’re these odd open door-less floor-less refrigerated shelves that are totally open to the elements, so if I put the expired stuff at the bottom it would probably be put right back with its unexpired compatriots. :-(

          • Stickdude says:

            I wonder what would happen if you brought a Sharpie and wrote “EXPIRED” in big letters on the carton to warn the next shopper.

    • Jevia says:

      Why does a plastic “gift card” have an expiration date in the first place? Its either activated or not, so why does it need to “expire”? Is it going to rot?

      • Dr. Shrinker says:

        This, exactly! I bought my brother a Visa gc for Xmas, and I didn’t even look for an expiration date in the fine print, because WHY would it ever expire before it was activated?

        • Straspey says:

          “Last year, Mike bought a Vanilla Visa prepaid debit card at CVS as a gift for a friend, who promptly forgot that the card existed until about a year later. The card doesn’t work, but not because it’s been dormant for the last year and had its balance eaten up in fees. No, the problem is that THIS CARD EXPIRED IN JULY 2010, BEFORE IT WAS EVEN PURCHASED.”

          That’s why…

          • dwtomek says:

            You explained that it did expire. Thanks for the lesson. However, you failed entirely to explain why it was necessary for it to ever expire prior to activation.

    • Mike says:

      OP here. Take a look at the thumbnail picture used in this story. The packaging for these cards covers up all of the numbers, including expiration date. There’s simply no way to check the expiration date of the card without opening up the packaging.

  7. QuantumCat says:

    I know what vanilla refers to in this type of context…

    but I think I’d love a Cookies n’ Cream Visa.

  8. maxhobbs says:

    Maybe OP will learn what a LAME “gift” a freaking gift card is…….

  9. thomwithanh says:

    I don’t buy prepaid debit giftcards regularly – really just for my family’s large Yankee Swap each Christmas, but if I’m not mistaken, the expiration date is printed directly on the packaging if the card itself isn’t visible. I hate to blame the OP, but checking the expiration date before purchase is common sense, we do it with milk….

    That being said, CVS is primarily at fault for having the expired card out on their shelves in the first place. Checking card stock once or twice a year and removing cards that either were expired or were expiring in the next 12 months would have prevented this entirely. And also, why the hell does CVS’ registers allow you to activate an expired debit card – can’t it see the expiration date when it’s swiped for activation?

    The gift cards on those racks at your supermarket, convenience store, pharmacy, etc… sometimes go for years before they’re sold, if at all. I was at a Stewart’s a month or so back and I saw Borders Gift Cards for sale – the last Borders closed in September.

  10. Almighty Peanut says:

    i blame the op. you can’t expect cvs or any other retailer to actually fight for and support consumers. once they have your money, end of transaction! they don’t owe you anything! errrr… that IS how it works right? i’ve been reading this site for so long i don’t know what’s considered a normal or acceptable retail experience anymore….

  11. jayphat says:

    Im having a hard time understanding how he bought it to begin with. Starting in January of ’10, the system automatically read the expiration date of the cards. If it expired in the next 1#week months from the date of purchase, it wouldn’t ring up. Period. No overriding it. My best guess is if he went back and looked at what he was actually charges or read the receipt, it would show that the activation failed and the cashier never pointed it out. The OP probably isn’t out $100, he probably just gave his friend a useless piece of plastic.

    • Jevia says:

      Except that somehow the OP believes he gave $100 to CVS and most people do notice that sortof thing. So who took his money?

      • jayphat says:

        He says he has no proof. He could easily go back and look at his credit card statement to see what he actually paid. I’m telling you, there’s no way he bought that card already expired.

        • Tiffymonster says:

          He obviously has some proof since he said he contacted capital one about a chargeback and they told him it was too late. Obviously he has some record on his credit card showing this purchase. I would consider that to be sufficient proof and CVS should have a record as well.

  12. RandomHookup says:

    I hate when people use “they” or “them” to refer to a single person whose gender is known.

    • Don't Bother says:

      But people do it alot!

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Damn English language and its lack of a gender neutral, singular pronoun!

      Way back when I was in High School, we were instructed to always use “he” and “his” when gender was unknown. What is the standard now, “s/he” or “he or she”?

      • RandomHookup says:

        True, there isn’t one, but the OP refers to a single person to whom he/she gave a gift. I’m guessing the OP knew the person’s gender, so referring to someone as “they” seems pointless (unless you are trying to hide something). The gender isn’t really important in this story, but it is shorter and not as distracting as using a plural word to describe one person.

        Actually, most people use “they” or “them” when the gender is unknown. I can live with it, but it’s distracting if you do know the gender and don’t use the proper word.

    • Jules Noctambule says:
  13. RandomHookup says:

    One suggestion…depending on the state, this might be a good case to take to the AG’s Office of Consumer Protection (or something like that). Gift cards are a sensitive area these days and states have passed laws around them (including limiting expiration). I find that a stern letter on your behalf from the AG gets a lot of attention and faster action than you contacting them directly.

  14. nicless says:

    I received a Vanilla Visa card for Christmas this year and made sure to use it quickly due to being poor. Maybe the person who received it should have just been poorer last year and it could have been caught quicker while the OP had the receipt? That is right. BLAME THE GIFTEE!

  15. PragmaticGuy says:

    Few weeks back the drinks my wife likes were on sale at CVS. When we went to buy them most of them were past the sale date. Spoke to the manager who said he just put them out the day before. This story is totally believable.

  16. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    I keep all my receipts for everything I purchase for exactly this reason.

  17. dragonfire81 says:

    It’s 2012 now, the card was not purchased last year.

    Sorry for being kind of nitpicky but facts are important.

  18. PLATTWORX says:

    I have to agree with CVS. A YEAR later you claim a gift card you purchased was not properly activated/expired and you want us to make good on it? With no receipt?

    CVS’s POS systems (registers) validate the gift card/debit cards during the transaction process. In fact, around holidays it can take longer to complete a transaction if you’re buying one as the terminal is waiting it’s term to validate the card. Only once validated and loaded will a receipt print out with a confirmation it was completed correctly and they hand it to you.

    How CVS could have loaded and activated an expired Vanilla Visa makes no sense. The transaction would have been declined.

    I’m sorry. I’d be very upset if I was out $100 but CVS is right to wonder what took so long and Capital One is right about it being too late for a chargeback. Whenever I buy a gift card I go home and check to make sure it’s loaded with the amount my receipt shows before presenting it as a gift.

    Sounds like the OP didn’t do that (understandable since many don’t) but his/her friend loosing the card for a year only made sure the $100 was gone for good. One mistake after another.

  19. kittiefuk says:

    thats why you don’t buy gift cards – just give people cash or write them a cheque

  20. Mr. Pottersquash says:

    If Capital One told you they cant do a chargeback, guessing that means you bought it with a debit/credit card MEANING you have readily available proof of when you purchased it. Thats what CVS needs, otherwise this whole thing seems shaddy to them.

    On another level, whaddayou care about a friend who you give 100 bucks to and promptly doesnt give two shits about it till he finds it a year later?

  21. jefeloco says:

    The big problem is that no one has any verification of the OP’s side of things. No matter how true his/her case is, it still has SCAM written all over it.

    This is unfortunate because a real world situation looks exactly like the situations that scammers use because they are entirely plausible and difficult to prove anything without a lot of digging (something the average drugstore clerk isn’t willing or authorized to do).

  22. sirwired says:

    If I was CVS, I’d also tell him to take a hike. They don’t keep full register data for a whole year, why would they? That data is bulky and of little value once the appropriate reports and statistics have been generated from it and the return period for the purchased items has elapsed.

    I’m not saying the OP is a scammer, but we can hardly blame CVS for not taking his word for it.

  23. consumeristjohnny says:

    I think something is not right in the story. How does the OP know the card his friend “found” is the same one he gave? Vanilla gift cards need to be activated. If it were already expired it could not get activated in the system. It seems the OP needs to get the card number back and determine when it was activated and sold. (Vanilla Visa could do that). If that date is prior to his purchase date then something doesn’t add up.

    I also wonder about a friend who loses a card and then a year later tells you, I lost that Visa card you gave me a year ago, but I found it now and it won’t work.

  24. crashfrog says:

    “One woman even suggested that I found the card and am now trying to scam CVS out of $100. “

    Really? Did that really happen?

    Or did the OP ask why they would have such a policy, and the representative replied that “well, sometimes people find used or expired cards and attempt to fraudulently return them for their cash purchase price.” Believe it or not, explaining how why rules exist to protect the company from fraudsters is not, in and of itself, an implication that you are a fraudster.

  25. Lyn Torden says:

    If he had actually addressed this issue right after he bought it, with proof he bought it from them, then I’d be on his side. $105.95 prudence lesson!

  26. XTREME TOW says:

    It’s accepted by more mechants, has no “Fees”, and never expires.
    (Children really love it for bithdays!)

  27. Lennae says:

    I have bought Vanilla Visa cards at two different CVS’s, Walmart, and about 5 other stores. It is not uncommon to find expired ones on the display. Every time I have taken an expired one to the register, which is quite often since stores don’t check them, the transaction will not go through. The register throws an error code if they are expired.

  28. atomix says:

    CVS should have a record of activating the card, and if it was purchased with a credit/debit card, should also have a record of what number was used to purchase it. Put 2 + 2 together and fix the card.

  29. Kaleey says:

    Can’t Vanilla Visa see when the card was last loaded? Or when it was activated? If you have the card number, that should tell them right there.

    Obviously tyhey can see that it was never activated properly, which means that the attempt to activate must be logged SOMEWHERE. And if the card was never correctly activated, shouldn’t CVS’s register say something along those lines?

    Seems like the corporations are being a mite lazy – all of that data is somewhere.

    • Mike says:

      Vanilla Visa agrees with me that it was never correctly activated, they can see the activation attempt on the day of purchase, which matches my credit card statement. They just won’t do anything about it, however. They claim it is CVS’s problem, not theirs, and won’t replace the card.