Bamboozled: Missing gift card money a mystery

white shirtLaura Cirrincione is a busy lady.

Her adult children, over the years, tried to find a way to give her a little pampering. So for birthdays and other occasions, they’d get their mom gift cards for spa services at the Hilton Hotel and Resort in Short Hills.

But time went by — the earliest gift card was given in 2005 — and Cirrincione never had the time to hit ??????????????????the spa. But that was okay, she thought, because the gift cards do not expire.

Then last Mother’s Day, Cirrincione came up with what she thought was a great way to spend the gift cards, which totaled $230.

“I thought I would treat my daughters and myself for a day at the spa using the gift cards,” Cirrincione said.

But when she called to make an appointment, she was told she couldn’t use the cards. They were in escheatment.

Escheatment is the term used to describe money in an account that’s believed to be abandoned by the customer. If the money-holder is unable to contact the customer after a certain time period, it’s supposed to turn the funds over to the state’s “unclaimed funds” department.

Each state has its own “unclaimed funds” department.

Cirrincione said Hilton employees told her the funds would have been sent to the “unclaimed funds” department in Delaware.

So she contacted Delaware’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property, which told Cirrincione to complete a form. She did that, and she also sent the gift cards and a copy of her identification to the state.

“I was told I would be reimbursed for the full amount of face value of the gift cards, but that the whole procedure would take three months,” she said.

That was May 13, 2014.

So she waited.

By the end of August, Cirrincione hadn’t heard anything, so she contacted Delaware again. This time she was given a claims number and was told it should take another two weeks.

She tried again on Sept. 29. And nothing.

On Oct. 15, Cirrincione said, she left a message for a supervisor. No one returned her call.

She called again the next day, speaking to a rep, and she learned that $63.25 of the $230 was found. Rather than receive a bunch of smaller checks, Cirrincione opted to wait until the entire amount was traced.

But nothing happened.

She called again on Nov. 12. Then on Dec. 29, she left another message for the supervisor, but again, no one called her back, she said.

“In between these calls, I spoke to a supervisor at Short Hills,” Cirrincione said, and she was told they’d look into it.

And in late January, she called the Hilton again, and a rep said they’d look into it again.

But no one had any answers.

That’s when she reached out to Bamboozled.
HOW UNCLAIMED FUNDS WORKS

There are consumer protections in place — federally and in each state — when it comes to escheat, or unclaimed funds.

Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act in 2009. The legislation set forth that gift cards cannot expire within five years of the date they were activated, and except for specific circumstances, it limits inactivity fees on unused cards.

New Jersey’s Gift Card Act covers both gift cards and gift certificates and offers similar protections.

Specifically pertaining to unclaimed funds, the law says: “A stored value card for which there has been no stored value card activity for five years is presumed abandoned.”

That means those funds would be headed to the state’s unclaimed funds bureau.

As an aside, New Jersey pays an interest rate on such funds. It’s based on the Cash Management Fund rate, which is currently 0.13 percent, the Treasury Department said.

But Cirrincione was told her funds went to Delaware and not New Jersey.

We wondered why, so we reached out to New Jersey’s Treasury Department.

Spokesman Joseph Perone said the funds would only be sent to New Jersey if there is a name and address, or at a minimum, a zip code, associated with the card. If not, then the balance of an unused card would escheat to the issuer’s state of incorporation.

In this case, that would mean Hilton, which public records show is incorporated in Delaware.

Like New Jersey, Delaware rules say if the property appears to be abandoned after five years, the funds are sent to the state.

So we reached out to Delaware, which promised to research the matter.

In the meantime, we gave Hilton a ring.

A manager there returned our call, leaving a voice mail that said Hilton could not discuss the customer’s situation because of privacy concerns.

Then Cirrincione started getting some calls.

First, it was the financial manager at the Hilton.

“She said she had been in contact with manager from Delaware and that he was looking into it,” Cirrincione said.

A week later, Delaware’s unclaimed funds department called.

“They are continuing the search, however they will send the money for the one card they were able to trace,” she said. “It seems some progress made.”

But now, more than a month after our inquiries, most of the funds are still missing.

We contacted Delaware again, but it still didn’t have all the answers.

“Ms. Cirrincione had three gift cards from Hilton Short Hills that she requested reimbursement,” the manager said. “However, only one card was found in our inventory of unclaimed property.”

So perhaps Hilton still has the rest of the missing funds.

The rep from Delaware said she’s been in touch directly with the Hilton, which said it continues to research the matter further.

Lots of research, but Cirrincione is still waiting for answers.

Last week, she did receive an email from Delaware saying she should get a check for $63.25 by the end of May.

“I just don’t understand how they can’t trace the monies sent from Short Hills to Delaware,” Cirrincione said. “All a mystery to me.”

We’ll let you know what happens.

If you believe you may have abandoned property somewhere, do a search at http://www.missingmoney.com. And before you pooh-pooh the idea, it’s common for funds to be forgotten after you move, or even after a person dies. If you’re the administrator of someone’s estate, even if that person died several years back, it could be worth a look.

Can’t everyone use a little “found” money?

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.

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