Gift card scamming
The server scam
Gift cards are wonderful things. Easy, convenient, and during these strange times, helpful when things can be delivered directly to your doorstep, including food. Yet I realized many of you might be unaware of the latest in gift card scamming that I’ve actually experienced firsthand.
It goes like this. You give or receive a gift card for $200, the amount I provided my parents last year for their anniversary. This happened to be for the Cheesecake Factory. Upon presentation of the bill, and their providing the gift card, the server returned stating that the gift card was only for $50. Well, that wasn’t the case, but my parents, without the receipt showing the authorization, were unable to argue otherwise. The bill was over $100, and their card—as told by the server—was only for $50.
My parents—bless their hearts—didn’t tell me this for over a month, because they assumed I was the one who actually misspoke (or being totally cheap). I was incensed. I dug through my receipts, found the activation code, called the gift card number and verified that yes, it was activated for $200. Armed with this info, I then called up the General Manager in the Reno location of said restaurant. To spare you the minutiae, what he ultimately found was that the server had taken the bill, uses the entire amount of the gift card, applying only a portion of the gift card, thereby pocketing the rest. It’s quite ingenious and might appear in one of my books at some point.
Problem solved and lesson learned, I thought. Although it’s classless, I began including the activation receipt along with the gift card. In my line of work (author/advisor) I get a ton of gift cards myself, and happily use them. As it happens, I received one for PF Chang, a wonderful chain serving fantastic food. The card is for $150, but I was not given the activation receipt. However, I’ve learned a lesson. Prior to going in, I went on line, used the website on the back to confirm activation and amount. Sure enough, $150. Imagine my surprise when the server told me that only $75 was on the card. I disputed the facts with the server, identifying the activation and amount, even the General Manager came over, but to no avail. I didn’t have the hard copy, activation receipt. In short, I was out the $25.00.
The last example—because third times a charm, right? This time it involves Red Robin. In this instance, a relative had given me the gift card, again, no receipt. Once again, I verified the card amount on line as being $50. What I did different was upon arrival, I requested the hostess to do a quick check of the amount on the gift card. In less than 15 seconds, she assured me it was in fact, $50.
Now I had a witness.
When the bill for $42 including a tip was presented, the server told me that $15 had already been used on the card. Hmm. I rather pleasantly called over the host. She was unaware of the what had transpired, and affirmed the amount on the card. I politely told the server she must be mistaken, as did the hostess. She stumbled and fumbled, but I received a revised bill and statement. Whatever she did in the background to rectify the situation was never revealed.
Three restaurants, three versions of the same scam. No need to make a big scene, because I get it; people are well…people. Not everyone is going to operate the same way, and as a well-known Hollywood producer once told me, “Everyone is broken in one way or another. If we (producers) don’t work around their issues, nothing in Hollywood would ever get done.”
So the work around is have the receipt if possible, and if not, check the balance on line (look on the back of the card). When you arrive at the establishment, ask the hostess or manager to double check the amount so you don’t run into issues. Lastly, at the beginning of the meal, prior to ordering, tell your server that you have a card and the amount has just been verified by the manager/host. That removes any possibility for fraud to occur.
After that, enjoy a great meal!