How to replace a lost, stolen gift card (or return an unwanted one)

Many retailers give options; easiest one is to keep receipts

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The reason so many of us love gift cards -- they're a lot like cash -- is also the reason they can be hard to replace. If your card is lost or stolen, most retailers are sympathetic, but only if you can prove that you actually purchased, or were gifted, the card.

How to replace a lost or stolen gift card

Replacing lost, stolen gift cards
To replace a card that's been lost or stolen, or return one you don't want, you have to do at least one of these things to demonstrate proof of ownership:

1. Keep the card's activation receipt.
2. Write down the gift card number.
3. Put the card's number in your mobile wallet.

"You need one of those three things for the retailer to look up a missing card," says Shelley Hunter, founder of and a spokeswoman for "And if you don't have those things, you're out of luck." See "Major retailers' gift card return and replacement policies" chart below for details.

If you held on to your receipt, or the generous soul who gave you the gift card can produce one, or if you know the card number, contact the retailer immediately. Most maintain toll-free numbers, available on the store's website and staffed by customer service representatives. They can cancel the card and work on issuing you a new one. Some retailers, such as Simon Malls, can replace cards over the phone as long as you know the gift card number; others, including Starbucks, replace a lost gift card you registered online.

If it's a store card, you may not even have to pay for a replacement fee, but that's less likely with bank-issued gift cards. American Express now offers to replace lost or stolen gift cards for free if you have the original card number and security numbers, but replacing a Wells Fargo Visa card costs $7.50, or $15 for a check cashing out the remaining funds on the card. SunTrust charges $5 to replace a MasterCard gift card. If your bank wants to charge a replacement fee, ask about simply getting your money refunded instead, which may be free.

Even if you never wrote down the number and the receipt is long gone, you're not entirely out of luck. If you already used the gift card to shop online, your data may still be stored in your account -- and you can spend it down pronto. Otherwise, consider trying to get reimbursement from PayPal or your credit card company if you ordered a card online and it never arrived, or replacing a gift card stolen from your home through your homeowner's or renter's insurance coverage. Check your policy for coverage details.

Steps to take now
Even with a receipt in hand, it's a hassle to cancel and then replace a lost or stolen gift card. Here's how to keep your cards safer now:

  • Enter records of your gift card info in Your Wallet Recovery Kit. The Kit -- a series of forms on which you can record information about your gift cards, as well as your credit cards, debit cards and anything else in your wallet -- was created by and is meant to help you be prepared in case of disaster. It lays out what information you need to write down and store away now. It even helps you find who to contact after your wallet goes missing -- and what to say when you speak with them.  
  • Register your card with the retailer. Some retailers, including Starbucks, Land of Nod, and Crate and Barrel, offer automatic balance protection and hassle-free card replacement to cardholders who register their gift cards with the store online. There can be bonus benefits, too. Starbucks, Cosi and Tully's Coffee Shops treat registered gift cards like a rewards card. As customers swipe the registered card for purchases, they earn points redeemable for free coffee refills, sandwiches or scones. 
  • Track your card in a mobile wallet. Stow card numbers in an app such as GoWallet, Gyft, Google Wallet or MyWallet Pro, where they'll stay safely password-protected until you need them. Some apps also let you check balances, remind you to use your cards or allow mobile gift card purchases with your phone.
  • Shop online. To make a purchase online, you only need the gift card number, which could help if you misplaced the actual plastic. offers a "Save Your Gift Card" option that allows customers to input gift card numbers once, then make online purchases later.
  • Use your card quickly. Although fewer gift cards go unspent than ever before, according to research by CEB TowerGroup, an estimated $750 million went unused in 2014. "People hold on to these cards and forget where they put them," says Kwame Kuadey, CEO and founder of "Using the card immediately not only prevents it from getting lost, but protects you if the company goes bankrupt."
  • Safeguard your card from fraud. Even if you have the card itself, someone could steal your balance. High-tech fraudsters scan or copy card numbers in stores, then spend the money online as soon as the card is activated, leaving you with a worthless piece of plastic. When you purchase a gift card, search for scratches or signs of tampering. Or avoid the problem altogether by purchasing e-certificates from online retailers such as

Options for using unwanted gift cards
While you're trying to safeguard most of your gift cards, there are others you can't get rid of fast enough, usually because the card is for a store you don't like or can't get to. Some stores treat gift cards the same as any other purchase, and let you return it under the same policy as any other merchandise. See "" for details.

Virtually no retailers allow you to trade in a new gift card for cash. The one exception: if you have only a few bucks left on your card. Some states, including California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Washington, require retailers to return small-dollar remnants to consumers in cash. The laws generally apply when you have less than $5 on your gift card (and some states limit it to $1). For more rules related to gift cards in your state, check the National Conference of State Legislatures' online chart.

That doesn't mean you're stuck with an unwanted card. Try these ideas:

  • Sell the card. A growing array of websites --,,,, and, to name a few -- form the secondary gift card market. They'll buy a card you don't want, verify the balance and send you a check or a PayPal deposit for up to 92 percent of the card's value, but on average more like 75 percent or less. To get the most cash for your card, use to compare the going rates and terms at several secondary gift card resellers. A little due diligence is required here. "For users selling a gift card for the first time, you want to read reviews on the gift card resellers online" and investigate how they protect both buyers and sellers, says Kendal Perez, a representative. Strong consumer protection policies make eBay a fairly safe bet these days, but avoid, which is notorious for gift card sale fraud.
  • Swap it. operates a message board where you can arrange to swap cards with other registered users at your own risk. Or simply trade with someone you know in real life: their $50 Home Depot card for your $50 Target card.
  • Donate it. Offer an unused gift card to a local charity or school, which can use it to buy supplies; offer it to needy clients or sell it to raise cash for their cause. Or mail your unused or semi-used cards to the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization Gift Card Giver, which shares them with organizations and people in need. The card donation program is a project of a nonprofit organization registered with the Internal Revenue Service as Plywood People Inc.
  Retailer Will the store replace a lost or stolen card? How do I
get started?
Can you get a refund for a gift card?
Target Yes, with receipt Call 800-544-3875 or visit the store nearest you Yes. Returns or exchanges require a proof of purchase, must be made within 90 days of purchase and are subject to a 10% restocking fee, unless prohibited by law
Starbucks Yes, if card is registered at Call 800-STARBUC or visit the store nearest you or Yes, unused with receipt. Call 800-STARBUC and a refund check mailed in 3-4 weeks of your call.
Wal-Mart Yes, with receipt  Please go to your nearest Wal-Mart store with your original receipt. No, except as required by law
Best Buy Yes, with receipt Call 888-716-7994 or visit the store nearest you Yes, in line with usual refund rules. Refund in same payment as purchase
Toys R Us Yes, with receipt Call 800-TOYSRUS or visit the store nearest you No, except as required by law
Old Navy Yes, with receipt Call 877-328-4538 or visit the store nearest you Yes, in line with usual refund rules. Refund in same payment as purchase
Amazon Yes, Amazon can resend a lost or stolen gift card Contact Amazon online with your order number (if possible), the purchaser's name and recipient's name, plus the physical or email address to which the gift card was sent. The original card will be canceled and a new one reissued  No, except as required by law
Home Depot Yes, with receipt Call 800-466-3337 or visit the store nearest you No, except as required by law
Chart data accurate as of Dec. 28, 2015. Do you know of a change? Write

See related: 7 things you need to know about gift cards , Prepaid card, gift card statistics

Updated: December 28, 2015

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