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AMEX (American Express) gift cards being escheated to the state if you don't use them for inactivity

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  • AMEX (American Express) gift cards being escheated to the state if you don't use them for inactivity

    Although it is a violation of California law (and similar laws in other states), which is posted below if you care to wade through it, AMEX has been lately escheating to the state the balance on your gift card if you don't use it for a while. Oddly, even an authorization from a merchant, or a declined transaction, which should count as "activity" seems to not be enough.

    Many of us use these gift cards simply for address verification, or to allow eBay selling on a merchant account only status eBay, and just leave the cards attached to our eBays, PayPals or Amazons for long periods without actually using them for anything.

    AMEX recognizes that what they have done by seizing our funds is impermissible, and so they have a phone number set up 8888227632 where you may call and get a form, that you may mail or FAX back to them, to get a replacement card. It is quite a pain as you must fill out the form and submit with an ID, which if you got the card under another name then you need to submit an ID but in any case, if you are willing to jump through the hurdles they will replace your card for you. To keep transaction costs at zero, FAX the form to them - even mailing it costs a stamp.


    California: Effective January 1, 1997, any gift certificate that is sold cannot contain an expiration date and must be redeemable for their cash value or replaced with a new gift certificate at no cost to the purchaser or holder. Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1749.5(a) and (b) (Deering). Accordingly, gift certificates are not subject to escheat. Cal Civ. Proc. Code § 1520.5. Certificates may contain expiration dates, if they are distributed by an issuer to a consumer pursuant to an awards, loyalty, or promotional program, as long as the consumer does not give money or any other thing of value in exchange for the gift certificate, they are sold below face value at a volume discount to employers or to nonprofit and charitable organizations for fundraising purposes if the expiration date on those certificates is not more than 30 days after the date of sale, or they are sold for food products such as groceries (this exception does not apply to gift certificates for restaurant meals). Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1749.5(d)(1), (2), and (3). The expiration date must be on the front of such certificates in capital letters in at least 10-point font. Cal. Civ. Code § 1749.5(c). Cal Civ. Proc. Code § 1520.5 (Deering). The term "gift certificate” specifically includes gift cards, except for certain cards that may be used with multiple sellers of goods or services (e.g., cards that can be used at various stores in a shopping mall) and prepaid calling cards. Cal. Civ. Code § 1749.45(a). Gift certificates cannot contain dormancy or other service fees, but a gift card may contain a dormancy fee if (1) the value remaining on the gift card is $5.00 or less each time the fee is assessed, (2) the dormancy fee is $1.00 per month or less, (3) the card has been inactive for 24 consecutive months (for example, no purchases, "reloading,” or balance inquiries), (4) the holder may reload or add value to the card, and (5) the card contains a statement in at least 10-point type stating the amount and frequency of the fee, that the fee is triggered by inactivity, and at what point the fee will be charged. This statement may be in the front or back of the card, but it must be visible to the purchaser prior to sale. Cal. Civ. Code § 1749.5(e). Effective in 2008, a gift card issuer will be required to provide cash back to gift card holders for any card with a remaining value of less than $10. Cal. Civ. Code § 1749.5(b)(2). The same exceptions found in Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1749.5(d)(1), (2), and (3) apply to the cash redemption right. Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1749.5(d). A gift certificate or gift card that is sold to the purchaser as a gift for another person may state a date by which the recipient must redeem the certificate or card. Because this is an exception to the "no expiration date” rule, a seller that chooses to state a redemption date on a gift card or gift certificate must give the purchaser a full refund of the amount paid for the certificate or card if the recipient does not redeem it by the redemption date. Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1749.5(a)(1) and (f). Gift certificates purchased before 1997, and which contain expiration dates, are still subject to escheat after three years. Cal Civ. Proc. Code §§ 1520(a) and 1520.5.
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  • #2
    How long is the period of inactivity before they close the account? I believe this does not only apply in California or Amex, I had a similar encounter with Visa in another state.

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    • #3
      Why would you say it does not apply in California or with AMEX when that is the entire topic of this thread? and exactly what happened to a few of my CA AMEX cards.

      It's unclear what they view as inactivity. The cards to which this happened actually had regular authorizations on them but no actual completed purchases.
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      • #4
        I said: I believe this does not ONLY apply in California or Amex. I believe this is the case for all cards issued all over the U.S. Just how long is the period of inactivity required before they do this appears to vary and is what I'd like to know.

        I had a Visa card in a different state with only authorizations, but not actual posted transactions for more than a year, and they said if I did not have a posted transaction within the next 40 days then they would close the account. Remember card issuers are only making money when you're using the card for purchases so that they're collecting a % from the processing fees, authorizations don't make anyone any money.

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        • #5
          Yes, it's a problem, as most of us use our gift cards in these circumstances for authorizations only. I suppose we will have to start making a small actual charge per year, lol - how about - one penny? to pay account fees or some such.

          Or just run it against your own merchant account for a penny, if you have a merchant account. (Which will sadly end up costing you more than a penny, for processing charges at the merchant account end.)
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