En español | Want a $100 gift card on the cheap? This week one for Best Buy was going for $95. A Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card worth $100 could be had for $94, and a GameStop card, $91. All were being offered for sale on the website Cardpool.com.
Cardpool has bought and sold discounted gift cards for years, but in the last three years the Irving, Texas, company has racked up nearly 2,200 consumer complaints, according to the Better Business Bureau, which gave the firm its lowest rating, an “F.” With complaints arising in every state, the bureau issued a nationwide warning about Cardpool on Dec. 15.
Cardpool is a gift-card exchange that operates alongside the multibillion-dollar gift- and reloadable-card industry. Here’s how exchanges work: Consumers sell physical gift cards or electronic gift cards with unredeemed balances and collect less than the cards’ actual value. Other people scoop up the unwanted cards that are priced at a discount. The exchange — functioning as a middleman — takes a cut of each transaction.
Consumers run a risk
The investigation into the Cardpool complaints was spearheaded by the Better Business Bureau Serving North Central Texas, whose region includes Cardpool’s headquarters. “When a gift card is not new, you … run the risk of not receiving what you bargained for,” warns Monica Horton, a Better Business Bureau spokesperson there.
In Virginia, retiree Lou Ann Rimel, 68, is among consumers who reported being burned by Cardpool. “I won’t use them again, and if anybody asks me, I’m going to tell them I didn’t have positive experiences of late,” the retired teacher’s aide told AARP.
For years she and her husband relied on Cardpool to snap up cheaper-than-face-value Home Depot and Lowe’s gift cards — without a hitch. But a few years ago, she paid Cardpool about $93 for a $100 Lowe’s gift card that didn’t work and when she complained to the company, she was stone-walled. “It wasn’t pleasant,” she recalled. “I spent a lot of time trying to get in touch and they simply wouldn’t respond.”
Bought worthless Kohl’s card
Outside Pasadena, California, Maggie Chatman, 63, is another disgruntled ex-customer. “The exchange is a good premise, but when it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out,” said Chatman, a retired budget coordinator for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. She praises Capital One Visa for giving her a $92 credit after she spent that much on a worthless $100 Kohl’s card — and Cardpool refused to reimburse her, she said.
What’s going on?
Cardpool is going out of business, a company official told AARP. “We are in the process of shutting it down, trying to complete all the pending transactions,” David S. Jones said in a statement emailed Dec. 31. Its website still was up and running as of Jan. 6 with nothing on the home page alerting customers to an impending closure.
Blames outside factors
Addressing Cardpool’s issues, Jones blamed a variety of external factors including plummeting revenues due to the pandemic. Unhappy customers Rimel and Chatman, though, said their unsatisfactory dealings occurred before the coronavirus struck. At the Better Business Bureau, Horton said complaints about Cardpool started spiking in 2018 and haven’t slowed down.
Jones also blamed Cardpool’s challenges on:
- Customers who “did not understand our business and either sold us a gift card that they then used or sold to another gift card exchange.”
- Fraudsters who “used stolen credit cards to purchase gift cards and then sold those cards to Cardpool.” Once the use of pilfered credit cards was discovered, the card-issuing “companies removed the balance and Cardpool was left holding the bag and it ended up costing Cardpool millions of dollars.”
Jones declined to say how many millions and likewise ignored other follow-up questions from AARP.
Firm got $426,000 PPP stimulus loan
To unleash federal pandemic relief, the CARES Act became law on March 27, 2020. Under its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Cardpool LLC was approved for a $426,000 loan on April 10, the website www.FederalPay.org says.
The loan money is for businesses to pay for workers’ salaries, rent, utilities and other key expenses to stay afloat.
Jones said the loan “provided support for a short period and was not enough to help the company overcome the 90 percent drop in revenue due to COVID.” More than 30 employees have lost their jobs, he said.
Promised a turnaround before
Jones’ own past statements reflect that Cardpool’s issues predated the pandemic. In a news story early in 2020, he is quoted as saying Cardpool had had some bad reviews the prior year, but the site now has new management. “For anyone who had a bad experience, I want them to know that those customer service issues have been fixed,” Jones told nbcnews.com in the story posted last Jan. 28.
The story calls Jones the CEO of Cardpool. He declined to give AARP his title. In filings he signed for the Texas Secretary of State in 2019, the most recent available, he called himself Cardpool’s registered agent.
In his email Jones asserted that despite the pandemic “we did respond to every single complaint we ever received and spent a great deal of time and investment trying to take care of people’s issues.”
Sold cards, waited months for payment
Some consumers invested plenty of time, too. In suburban Chicago, 54-year-old Stan Chatman — no relation to Maggie — said he wrote 10 emails to Cardpool seeking to receive the compensation due him before he was paid $301 on Dec. 1 for two Best Buy gift cards worth $350. He sold them to Cardpool back on July 7. “It was good to finally be paid. I’m still very annoyed about having to wait five months,” the IT executive told AARP. He, too, had used Cardpool for multiple transactions in earlier years without a hiccup.
The Better Business Bureau urges consumers to check a business’ ratings before any transaction in the marketplace. Visit BBB.org to check ratings, which range from A+ to F.
If buying or selling a gift card, the bureau has more tips:
- Use a payment method that allows you to dispute a charge if you are defrauded.
- After purchasing a previously owned gift card, immediately check the balance and any passwords and PINs. Once you verify these items, use the cards quickly.