Consumer Alert

Don’t get stuck in customer service limbo — escalate

By Mitch Lipka
Globe Correspondent / September 19, 2010

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Q. Last December, I paid cash to obtain $800 worth of American Express gift cards to give as Christmas presents. In March, my son tried to use his card. He was told that there was no money left.

He and I both placed calls to the customer service number on the back of the card. We were each told the money on the card had been sent to the Massachusetts Unclaimed Property division. The card said it was valid thru April 2014.

I contacted the Unclaimed Property, as suggested by American Express customer service. The first time, the Unclaimed Property division said nothing had shown up. I again tried to reach American Express, which said they could not add money back to the card without the receipt. I couldn’t get any answers about what happened.

Joanne Cooke

A. When you are stuck in customer service and you can’t get satisfaction in a situation you are convinced you are right about, always remember to escalate. Ask for a supervisor. Write a letter to the corporate offices. You can find contacts for most big companies on the federal government’s site.

Or you could write your local consumer column if you are at a loss. So, consider your situation escalated.

After presenting the situation to the folks at American Express, they dug in to figure out what happened — which apparently got a little confusing along the way — and then righted the wrong.

First, in sorting things out, they found out that cards purchased in December were used. But the provided card number was indeed still valid and should have had money on it.

“As funds on American Express Gift Cards never expire, we are sending her a replacement gift card with the remaining balance,’’ American Express spokeswoman Vanessa Capobianco said.

She said she couldn’t address what might have been said along the way in those customer service calls, but did explain the only reason there is an expiration date on the cards is so transactions can be processed.

When you’re about to try to gird for a fight with a company, take the time to be sure of the facts and gather up all the documentation you can to help make your assertions as clear as possible.

Mitch Lipka is the Consumer Ally for AOL’s and lives in Worcester. He can be reached at