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Preschool fund-raiser prepaid cards expire too soon



Updated: January 14, 2012 2:05AM

D ear Fixer: Last December and March, I purchased four $50 Visa prepaid cards through a fund-raiser for my kid’s preschool. I purchased enough for a whole year’s worth of birthdays and holidays.

When I gave one as a gift to my nephew in June, I was embarrassed to find out that the cards were only good for six months. It had expired on May 31.

To make a long story short, preschool was closed for the summer. When it reopened, I took the cards in, thinking they could be replaced.

They were replaced — minus a fee of $6.95 and $3 per month, per card. They took $15.95 per card, leaving my $200 worth of Visa cards worth $136.20.

Had I known they would expire, I certainly would not have purchased a year’s worth!

I received my replacements the last week of September. I sent my son to the grocery store on Oct. 13 to use them. They are now only worth $31.05 per card (down from the original $50).

The only department I could talk to was in charge of lost and stolen cards. I spoke to a supervisor. He took all my info and was going to get back to me in 24 hours. He said he thought this

was ridiculous and was going to try to get all the fees reimbursed.

I haven’t heard from him.

Needless to say, I am just sick at losing all this money, just because I was trying to be helpful to our school. I’m hoping you can help me out.

Diane Whyte, Aurora

Dear Diane: The Fixer got right to work on this one, fearing that with every minute that passed, more money was slipping off your cards, never to return!

These Visa cards, it turns out, were issued by MetaBank, which enforces those expensive terms of use. Here in Illinois, we’ve been lucky to have a gift card protection law on the books for several years, making it illegal for gift cards to expire before five years or amass fees for inactivity (though credit card-branded cards are not covered by our state law). The federal CARD Act of 2009 does offer some protection, even for credit card gift cards, though the issuer can still deduct monthly fees. The Card Act does not cover reloadable prepaid cards or cards that are given as part of a promotion.

Considering all the fees involved with the cards you purchased, The Fixer suggests choosing a gift card for a specific retailer next time (provided, of course, it is a healthy store not about to enter bankruptcy). Or forgetting about etiquette and just giving cash.

But back to your problem. At the point you wrote to us, you had all eight cards in your possession – the original four expired cards (your nephew had given the worthless one back to you) and the four replacements, which had plummeted in value to $31.05. We went to MetaBank and pretty much threw ourselves at their mercy, asking if there was anything they could do.

It took a little while, but in the end, they agreed to restore the value, meaning you now have four $50 cards, just as you thought you did in the beginning. But rather than wait to use them for relatives’ birthdays and holidays, you said you’re going to spend them ASAP on groceries — before they drop in value again.

Dear Fixer: For the past six weeks, my Chevy Express van has been parked in my driveway, unable to be used.

Since purchasing my van two years ago, I have had problems with multiple seatbelts. The seatbelts release randomly while driving.

I brought the van back to the dealership and at first, we were told that nothing was wrong. The problem continued, however, and they eventually replaced the center seat belt on the front bench.

A few weeks ago, my wife and 5-year-old daughter were traveling home. My wife made a right turn, and the seat belt holding my daughter’s car seat unexpectedly released and my daughter was thrown against the side doors and trapped between the door and foot rest.

My wife contacted Chevy and asked whether a police report should be filed because my daughter was injured. (She suffered facial bruising and a chunk of her hair was ripped out.) They said they were sorry for what happened and someone would be contacting us within a day or two.

We were eventually contacted by a GM representative, who asked me questions regarding my daughter and the accident. I let him know that even though my wife and daughter were shaken up, they seemed OK. He assured me that GM would take care of this.

He said I would be contacted by an inspector to set up an appointment to meet at a local dealership to inspect the van. Almost a week later, I had not heard from the inspector.

So the rep told me to bring the van to my local dealer so they could perform the inspection. However, when I contacted the dealer, they had no idea who I was or what they were supposed to do.

Finally, that got cleared up and I brought the van in. The tech at the dealership found that the seat belt involved in my daughter’s incident was defective. He said he would order a new one immediately. He said I should contact the GM representative.

I left the GM rep a voice mail and called again a week later, but did not hear back. Finally, I called again and left a voice message asking him to please return my call or I might need to contact my attorney. He promptly returned my call (it’s interesting how the word “attorney” got me a rapid response).

I asked him how this would be handled. He said he would authorize replacing that one defective belt. I let him know again that we have been having problems with multiple belts in the van and would feel much more comfortable if all the belts were replaced. He told me he would not authorize that.

At this point I am at my wit’s end. I have a van that I bought to transport my nine children — but I am uncomfortable driving it.

Daniel Hopman, Chicago Heights

Dear Daniel: If this were a case of one rotten seat belt, that would be one thing. But you told The Fixer that for whatever reason, other belts in the van have been popping open unexpectedly. We don’t blame you for not wanting to use the van until this is fixed.

We decided to bypass the rep and go straight to GM’s corporate communications team. There, we found a sympathetic ear and a quick response. Within days, they agreed to go ahead and replace all the seat belts in your van, so you’ll have extra peace of mind. They’ll also give you a loaner vehicle while the work is being done.

Dear Fixer: Last April, I was having a problem with a cell phone I had recently purchased. I was able to do an exchange through T-Mobile’s warranty exchange program.

They sent me a new phone, and I was required to send back the defective phone in a pre-addressed box. If I didn’t, I’d be charged a fee. The pre-addressed box had a UPS label, so I dropped the package off at a UPS store.

On my August T-Mobile bill, I was charged $315.75 for the phone! I contacted T-Mobile and they told me they never received the packagewith the defective phone.

They said I would have to get UPS to contact them to verify that I did drop off the phone. UPS told me they can verify that I dropped off that phone, but that T-Mobile will have to contact UPS. I’ve contacted the UPS store, UPS’ corporate office, the UPS store’s corporate office, T-Mobile’s customer service and even a T-Mobile store. All of them tell me that the other has to contact them.

That’s the runaround I’ve been getting for the past month and a half. I’m not at all at fault for this phone being lost, so please help me get back this ridiculous fee.

Christopher Presmyk, Franklin Park

Dear Christopher: Back in middle school, The Fixer knew a girl whose parting line was always “Call me.” She said it with a hint of a threat that she might end the friendship if we didn’t call her. Everyone knew she expected to receive phone calls, not make them.

Could these two companies be acting like the queen of seventh grade?

The good news is, Team Fixer was able to find a common-sense professional in T-Mobile’s media relations department to cut through this silly red tape and determine that your old phone was, indeed, sent back to their company. They’re refunding you the $315 fee.

Getting the runaround over a consumer problem? Tell it to The Fixer at , where you’ll find a simple form to fill out. Because of the large volume of submissions, The Fixer can’t personally reply to every problem. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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