Attention holiday shoppers. Not sure what to buy Aunt Matilda or cousin George? A gift card allows them to buy whatever they like? Maybe. Large retailers such as Sharper Image, Bombay Company and Linens ‘N Things have filed for bankruptcy or gone out of business, leaving behind millions of dollars in unused gift cards. In bankruptcy, money left on a gift card is treated as a debt, which the bankruptcy court can decide if it is to be repaid, and how. If the retailer stays in business, the court may allow it to continue to honor its cards, but even then consumers may not get the full value. Sharper Image, for example, was allowed to continue accepting gift cards, but only if the cardholder spent twice the value of the card in a single transaction. Bombay Company was allowed to pay its gift-card holders 25 cents on the dollar. If the retailer closes its doors, it is possible the consumer’s only recourse would be to file a claim and stand in line with the other unsecured creditors.
Have you received one of those “data security breach” letters? Quick, call the credit bureau and bank. Change the checking, credit card and license numbers. Most financial institutions have absorbed the cost of reissuing payment cards or providing new checks, even when these financial institutions had nothing to do with the security breach. When B.J.’s Wholesale Club disclosed that a theft of credit card information had occurred, two financial institutions sued to recover the costs that resulted from that breach. The institutions claimed B.J.’s breached its legal obligation to maintain the security of the financial institution and should be liable for the damages. Those claims were initially rejected, but have now been revived by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which has issued a decision holding these financial institutions were intended third-party beneficiaries of the contract among the retailer, its merchant bank, and the payment card industry, to keep customer data safe. If the retailer breached data protection rules imposed by the payment card industry and the financial institutions were third-party beneficiaries of that agreement, then any damage and loss could be recovered based on contract law claims. Stay tuned.