This is what happened to me. I gave a friend $300 to buy gift cards for iTunes, and he got me six $50 cards in the Woodlands Best Buy store in Texas. This was in november 2009. Me and a relative redeemed three of these cards during the following months, but I only got around to redeeming the last three in september 2010. When I did, they didn’t work. The error I got was that these codes did not exist.
In order to follow along, you need to understand the gift card process. When you buy a card, it is “activated” at the store’s cash register. It’s only after “activation” that the card exists in the iTunes system. Vice versa: if it is “activated” it was duly bought and paid for in a store. Once the recipient of the card wants to use it, he/she has to “redeem” it, which you do using the iTunes application. So, “activate” and “redeem” are two different steps in the process.
So I contacted iTunes support and what they said is this:
Martin, I did little investigation on this issue and my records indicate that your iTunes Gift Cards (<here the numbers were repeated>) have been canceled and that Best Buy provided a refund for the purchase price. I’m sorry that I could not reactivate the card for you.
The key terms here are: “canceled” and “could not reactivate”, both of which make very clear that the cards were indeed activated at the point of purchase, but later canceled.
I checked with my friend, and he had no such refund on his credit card. So I asked again to find out more exactly when this refund was supposed to have happened, and got this reply:
Martin, I did research on this and found that the Gift cards with serial numbers …, … and … were cancelled on 09/16/2010. The reversed or the refunded might be deposited back onto your credit card. Please look for the receipt on your email and also the credit card statement of this particular date.
Ok, so on September 16, according to Apple, Best Buy requested that the cards should be cancelled. I tried to redeem them a week after that. My friend then called Best Buy about it, and they could not find any record of any refund connected to this. They didn’t find any record of the cancellation either. Another round with iTunes support and I got this:
As the Gift cards were cancelled by the Best Buy, with our resource I could only see that these cards were cancelled and refunded. Please contact Best Buy (1-888-BEST BUY/1-888-237-8289), with the receipt and they will be able to provide the more information and help you on this issue.
So now I called Best Buy and got Rick W. aka “Mitch” on the line. I gave him the story and he looked up the sales transaction. He confirmed that there was no refund requested or given. He even said he had no idea Best Buy could cancel iTunes gift cards. But he promised to look into it. I sent him forwards of the mails I had got from iTunes support, and he was going to take care of this pronto.
A few more back and forths, while Rick W’s enthousiasm clearly waned, response times becoming longer and longer, messages becoming more and more terse, until he finally said:
Best I can do is 75 dollar gift card to the purchaser
My reaction to this was… “WTF??!”. His email was rude, late, brief, and wrong. The only reason I can imagine why I would accept half the amount is if I was trying to scam Best Buy and he didn’t find it worth his time to prove it. Oh, boy, do I dislike Best Buy customer support now… I wrote back saying it was entirely unacceptable. It’s my money and I want it back. Nothing more was heard from Best Buy, even though I sent reminder mails. Stone dead cold.
So, it’s back to iTunes. This time I get the following request:
In order to help you further, please take scans of the front and back of each Gift Card and include the scans with your response. I’ll need to see a photocopy or scan of the cards themselves. I’ll also need to see the receipt for each card.
This request makes sense, since iTunes support probably wanted to make sure I had the cards in my possession. So I scan in the cards, include an email with the scans explaining that my friend does not have the paper receipt, but that we do know the transaction number and they can use that to check with Best Buy that the cards were sold there. Response from iTunes:
Thank you for including the scans of the Gift Cards. I have verified that they are adequate scans. Finding a solution for you is important to me, so I have requested assistance with the issue you reported. You will receive an email after the matter has been investigated and further information is available.
We’re already past half november, but now I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But then, a week later, “Tim, senior advisor” responds:
I appreciate your patience while I’ve been reviewing the information you sent about your gift card. Unfortunately, I will have to have a scanned copy of the receipt itself in order to assist further; I’ve been unable to verify the purchase of the card with the information you provided, since we don’t have direct access to Best Buy’s systems.
You may be able to contact the store in question to request a reprint of this receipt, but I won’t be able to assist further without an image of the actual receipt itself. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but I look forward to your reply.
At this point, I started to lose my cool. I sent this to Tim:
I’ve been giving your message a day’s thought and it doesn’t make sense. Both Apple and Best Buy have confirmed to me that these three gift cards are the real thing, that they’ve been properly purchased, properly activated at the register, and properly activated in Apple’s systems. There has never been a doubt about that. A copy of the receipt will prove nothing to you that you don’t already know. It will only cost me hours on the line with Best Buy again.
*After* being properly activated, these cards were then de-activated September 16 this year. Apple told me so, and you know it. Best Buy tells me they don’t know that. The problem then is to find out if Best Buy did get a refund from you or not. They claim not. There is no way for me to prove a negative.
So, in conclusion, you know for a fact these cards are bona fide. If you have doubts about Best Buy having been refunded or not, *you have to take that up with Best Buy*! I can’t do this for you!
What we have here is Apple and Best Buy both knowing one or both of you cancelled my cards for no good reason and without refunding them, but you keep giving me the run around. I’ve spent two months and untold hours on this, and it has to stop right now. If you have any sense of customer service, you fix this without bothering me again. OR you state clearly and unambigiously that you’re not planning on honoring the gift card commitment. But I will not keep spending time on this.
Needless to say, Tim didn’t even respond, didn’t even acknowledge my message. I even sent a brief synopsis to Steve J himself. He didn’t bother either. This kind of thing, the theft of customer’s money, doesn’t seem to interest anyone.
So, back to phoning Best Buy again, trying to get a copy of the receipt, only to run up against another wall: they won’t send a copy to anyone else except the original purchaser. But my friend in the meanwhile, was incommunicado in Africa somewhere. Another two weeks go by, he returns, calls Best Buy and finally gets an email with a receipt, which is just a listing from their accounting system, not the “scanned image” iTunes support requires. And, interestingly, the credit card number was in the clear in that listing; makes one wonder…
So I send this non-scanned-image-of-a-receipt to Tim at iTunes, and finally, on December 21, I get this:
Thank you for the additional information. With this receipt information I’ve been able to obtain replacement codes for your gift cards; here are the codes:
You could say it all turned out allright, but I don’t think so. I’ve wasted untold hours on this crap. Right from the start, iTunes and Best Buy both knew with absolute 100% certainty that the cards were entirely legit and that no refund had been given. Both knew I, or my friend, had not cancelled them. Both totally refused to pick up the phone and call each other, instead letting the customer (me and my friend) do all their legwork. Finally, the only point they actually should have verified, namely that Best Buy never got the refund Apple says they gave them, never was verified.
My theory, which I’ve shared with all three (iTunes, Best Buy, and Steve J, even though he probably never even read it) is that someone at Apple or Best Buy has a scam going, where he/she is “cancelling” iTunes gift cards which have not been redeemed for a number of months after purchase, taking the money somehow and (usually) never get caught. Neither BB or iTunes have ever responded to my theory. They seem totally uninterested.
Another point is brought home by the request to scan my cards for iTunes. The only reason to ask for that is probably to see if I bought my iTunes “codes” over the internet, and refuse me a refund or replacement if I did. This strikes me as highly dubious. If I had indeed bought them over the internet, what right does iTunes have of not honoring them? Maybe such a clause is buried somewhere in the iTunes user agreement, I really don’t know, but it doesn’t sound very fair to me. In any case, that was not my problem, so I’m not going to research the EULA just for that.
My main conclusion is: iTunes gift cards are a really, really dangerous purchase. They are not to be trusted, since Apple by no means stands behind them. It’s a toss-up if they’re going to honor them or not. If you do buy any for friends or family, give them a copy of the receipt and ask them to redeem pronto. Which all seems to make the “gift” in “iTunes gift card” a very dubious term.
My second conclusion is that someone has found a nice extra income by ripping off late redeemers, and Apple doesn’t seem to care. That worries me as an Apple shareholder.