Don’t trust iTunes gift cards

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:

Martin

Best I can do is 75 dollar gift card to the purchaser

Mitch

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.

32 Comments on “Don’t trust iTunes gift cards”


By michael. January 30th, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Well I just bought a 15 dollar gift card today and I just got home, so I tried to redeem it. Then it shows an error message saying”The Gift Certificate or Prepaid Card code you entered has been cancelled” I do not know if what happened to you is happening to me but I’am very pissed off.

By Craig. February 11th, 2011 at 12:31 am

I was given a $50 itunes giftcard months ago as a gift, and had no chance to use it due to my living arrangements. Just got everything hooked up and I was just informed that my giftcard had been canceled. Needless to say, I am pissed and there is nothing I can do

By Carlos. May 13th, 2011 at 3:04 am

Same here – I haven’t had time to redeem a $15 gift card I’ve had for about a year until now and it is cancelled! WTF?! Why are they even cancellable? Doesn’t this negate the idea of the cards being a “gift”?? What a scam.

By Jonas. July 15th, 2011 at 1:17 pm

This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of, and this isn’t the first time either. TO be honest, I’ve never had any problems with the iTunes gift cards, but my best friend got screwed over last week when it got canceled on him. 50 dollars down the drain!

By PJ Herndon. September 13th, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I am walking this exact path at this exact moment!! I think a class action lawsuit is in order! What BS! My recent note back from BB is “Sorry we can’t offer you any replacement solutions. Rest assured that the appropriate parties will be notified of the solution”.

Ok, I will sleep much better tonight knowing that they have ALL THE PROPER INFO to make this situation right again…..but they AREN’T !! And I will sleep much better knowing that they are going to “notify the appropriate parties”!!!! OMG, really??

PJ

By Soonerdude. October 30th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Same thing happened here. I was informed by apple that my $25 itune gift card was cancelled by Best Buy. I wonder how many people are getting ripped off! Anybody know how to start a class action lawsuit? I am sure some lawyer will be willing to pick this case up.

By Jesse. November 2nd, 2011 at 8:47 am

I just got screwed too.

I notified Apple that I will be letting the Better Business Bureau know about this. That at least will be a start.

I told Apple that Best Buy claims the card was never canceled. Yet Apple keeps lying and saying it was. I dared them to go ask Best Buy if they don’t believe me.

This has to end.

By Olivia. November 26th, 2011 at 7:25 am

Same here too,bought an $100 itunes gift card and when i tried to redeem it, it said the card was canceled. I questioned Apple for hours and they said the card was canceled but when i talked to Best Buy, they said it was never ever canceled. So, I had to have them try to redeem it on my itunes account themselves since they said it was not canceled (at first they refused but i guess they got frustrated and gave it a shot). So when they tried to redeem it, they got a message saying it was canceled by Best Buy. I had them looking it up in the records (since they had no choice but to) and their it was. “07/16/10- DEACTIVATED/CANCELLED $100 iTunes Gift Card” I was so pissed off when i saw this and Best Buy gave me a refund plus an extra 5 dollars for that little “lie” they told me.

By Olivia. November 26th, 2011 at 8:42 pm

What i meant to say is that they also gave me a gift card for 5% off any electronics not extra 5 dollars.

By Steve Tyson. December 1st, 2011 at 4:54 am

This just happened to me also. I was given a $15 I-tunes gift card a few years ago and finally got around to registering on Apple I tunes in order to redeem this card. And so today when I punched in the code, I got a message from Apple that said: “the gift certificate or prepaid card code you entered has been cancelled [sic].” I am a class action lawyer, so I’d be happy to look into this for anyone interested. If you want, give me a call or email, let me know your details, and we’ll see what we can do. My number is 610-876-1482 and my email is steve@e-squire.net. Thanks,

By Randy. December 3rd, 2011 at 9:11 pm

I found that a good way to get results when a large company tries to scam you is by reporting it to BBB.

I had an instance where I paid for an extended warranty and then they had never passed it on to the extended warranty company. So in actuality, I had paid for an extended warranty but did not have it. Through a fluke I found out about it and then requested my money back since I did not have what they sold me but had proof that I paid for it. After some intense conversations on the phone I simply sent a letter to BBB and within a week I had someone calling me from the company more than happy to give me a full refund.

While the situation is slightly different, the principle is the same.

By Chris. December 21st, 2011 at 12:10 am

Will chime in here – same thing happened to me with a $25 gift card. Apple let me know when the card was purchased and when it was cancelled/refunded, but tells me to talk to Best Buy. Best Buy tells me to talk to Apple.

$25 isn’t really worth the time and effort, but figuring out what the scam is and why these companies just don’t care may be worth it.

By john. December 23rd, 2011 at 6:54 am

i stole mine, they dont work, not happy

By Steve Tyson. December 30th, 2011 at 12:41 am

I am trying to figure out what the scam is. Give me a call if you want to help. 610-876-1482. Thanks.

By nan. January 3rd, 2012 at 12:45 am

This scam is apparently still going on. My son just tried to redeem his Itunes christmas gift card and was told it was cancelled. This really is bogus and it’s especially sad that it’s gone on this long with nothing being done about it.

By Brittney Franklin. January 16th, 2012 at 8:54 pm

I’m having the same problem with a gift card that was given to me as a gift last Christmas. Of course, I don’t have a receipt, and Apple is saying it’s been cancelled!!! If anyone figures out how to correct this without a receipt, please email me at priceba2011@gmail.com. Thanks!

By Barbara Fafard. January 31st, 2012 at 11:28 pm

We are having a problem with $50 in I-Tunes Gift card that we were given a couple years ago. Of course we do not have the paper receipt because it was a gift.

I would love to see a class action law suit on this.

By albert R.. February 7th, 2012 at 8:30 pm

just recieved a card for my birthday and it gives the message it has been cancelled. hope some one does something about this as this smells of a huge lawsuit for APPLE… hope this scam gets cleared and victims compensated. If i had purchased this card myself i would be furious!!!.. will notifiy gifter of situation so she is aware.

By martin. February 7th, 2012 at 8:43 pm

A question to all of you commenters: did all of you get the gift cards from Best Buy, or are there victims who got them elsewhere, for instance in an Apple store? I think the answer to this question is important.

By Lyna. February 20th, 2012 at 1:35 am

My boyfriend gave me a few iTune gift cards MANY years ago, which I just finally decide to use last week. I have the same “…cancelled” message after I scratched off to Redeem it.
I appreciate the long story from the original post, save me the trouble (& shorten life span) of chasing for a solution since there is no way I have proof of purchase nor the location, because my boyfriend tends to throw out receipts ASAP.
However, I sense this pattern of unfair practice, something is fishy here! I think we should should ALL report this to your local Better Business Bureau, so they can also keep a record to this type of complaints. Or perhaps someone has some pull in the News media to make it more public, such as “Shame On You!”
Any unpopular attention to Apple, Best Buy, or other retail stores doing the same scam, may save other consumers from our lost.

By MichelleC. March 27th, 2012 at 1:22 pm

We are dealing with the same issue right now. I bought my husband 4 $30 packs of gift cards at Michael’s when they had a buy $30 for $25. They come with 3 $10 gift cards per pack. He activated 1 and the other 2 didn’t work. He has gone round and round with Apple and has similar e-mail exchanges as this post. I had the 4 activation receipts and a gift receipt for him, but not the original receipt and still Apple is asking for the original receipt, WTF is a gift receipt for then?

I also don’t get how 1 card in a pack of 3 works but the other 2 don’t and that means our claim is not legitimate to Apple. The cashier can only activate the card from the outside of the pack not each individual card.

We are only out $20 if it doesn’t get resolved, but it really is the issue of them not honoring the gift card.

By Neil A.. April 9th, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Same problem here … I have a $15 gift card, from Best Buy, purchased around Christmas 2008 or 2009. I didn’t use iTunes until recently, and when I try to redeem the card, it claims it has already been “cancelled”. What a load of BS. What’s the point of gift cards if they can cancelled at any point, without any warning?

By Charles. April 12th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I’ve had two cards “cancelled” on me. This seems like a huge scam. Someone is making money.

By Steve Tyson. June 18th, 2012 at 2:47 am

We are investigating this situation regarding unauthorized cancellation of i-tunes gift cards. Please give me a call if you would like us to look into this for you. Thanks, Steve Tyson, 610-876-1482, steve@e-squire.net

By Steve Tyson. June 18th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

You can also complete a questionnaire regarding your i-tunes gift card situation, at http://01641c5.netsolhost.com/itunesgiftcardform.html

By Katie. July 7th, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Okay I would like to know what this means. I got a 100 dollar iTunes gift card and tried redeeming it on iTunes. When I typed it it said the offer for this code wasn’t availiable yet! I bought this at the Baytown Tx Best Buy! Anyone know why this is happening?

By Lily Jia. August 3rd, 2012 at 3:37 am

the same here – bought from Best Buy but it showed cancellation error message at the time of redeem.

By Roxann Brennan. September 16th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

I received a $15 iTunes card and it didn’t work
and was told by tech support they had no record
of the code number etc. They acted like it was a problem they had never dealt with and they had to check with somebody before they could resolve the issue. They just wait for you to get frustrated and give up.

RB

By Frank. December 25th, 2012 at 7:26 am

I think the moral here is dont loose your recipt.

By Babs. December 25th, 2012 at 6:29 pm

No way is the moral “don’t lose your receipt”. The moral is don’t buy Itunes gift cards. Why should you have to go through all the hassle the author of this article went through. I’m really getting fed up with Apple and wonder how much people are going to be willing to put up with.

By Person. March 8th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Has anyone ever had this happen to them?: I bought a $15 iTunes card, but when I redeemed it, it only gave me $5.97.

By Michigan Mom. June 18th, 2013 at 10:32 am

Reading this prompted to my preemptive action! Six months ago, my sister gifted me 2 x $100 iTunes gift cards after my iPad was stolen at her wedding. (She meant it as a help to replace the stolen iPad and I think intended to purchase an Apple Store gift certificate instead, but that’s another story entirely.)

After getting the bad news that I couldn’t use actually use an iTunes gift card to purchase hardware, I decided to use the credit towards future smaller gift cards going forward as gifts for others when the need arises (teachers, the mail carrier, etc.) (We don’t purchase much content ourselves.) But I was fearful that they might “expire” at some point.

This morning I “redeemed” these gift cards but didn’t have to purchase anything. I applied the $200 as a credit to my Apple ID. I will keep a scan of the actual cards, just in case. But it feels good knowing that there is a record of these transactions.