Randy Responds

Millions in Gift Cards Go Unused. A California Law is On Your Side Though

Can you get cash back on the remaining balance of a gift card? You might be surprised.

NBC Universal, Inc.

If you have partially used gift cards sitting around your home, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that millions of dollars in gift cards go unspent. But one California law is designed to help consumers cash in on some partially used gift cards. Although one consumer learned that retailers don’t always follow the rules. 

Grabbing lunch at her local Carl’s Jr. has been frustrating for Chris Zarow.

“Get your act together, come on,” she said.

Zarow sometimes buys lunch using a Carl’s Jr. gift card. When the balance on the card dips below $10, she’s been asking the restaurant in Montrose to give her the balance in cash.

“They said absolutely, flatly, ‘No, we can’t do it,’” said Zarow.

But Zarow’s request is protected under California law. 

“Any gift card with a face value or balance of less than $10 must be redeemable for cash upon request,” said attorney Jay Rahimi.


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Rahimi says the law applies to single store gift cards sold since 1997. He also says while the law has good intentions, it’s not easy to enforce. 

“Generally, the only way you’re going to get some actual recourse is by hiring an attorney, and most likely filing a class action lawsuit,” said Rahimi.

The I-Team reached out to the Carl’s Jr. in Montrose, which is a franchise. In a statement, an attorney for the franchise said: “It’s absolutely our policy to pay out gift cards under $10…”

He said Zarow encountered a new employee. He also said he’s “..followed up with each employee to ensure they’re familiar with the policy.”

He invited Zarow back. NBCLA went with her, and sure enough, she got her money. 

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