It seems that the site has become Consumer Alert Central recently. I hope this doesn’t become a trend; consumer watchdogs tend to get harassed, and I’d vastly prefer to have good consumer experiences.
Anyway, yesterday was Tami’s birthday. Among other things, I got her a Simon Mall gift card, something she had suggested herself. It was easy to get, and would enable an afternoon of hassle-free shopping for her. Of course, as you’ve probably figured out, this was not exactly the experience she had.
With most gift cards we’ve used, you can use up the card easily. At the final swipe, the available balance is subtracted from your total bill, and you’re given the opportunity to pay the rest some other way. With Simon’s cards, though, if the bill is greater than the available balance, the entire purchase is simply declined. To use the card up, you have to know the exact balance left on the card, and tell the cashier to charge only that amount to the card.
Most of the stores at the mall seemed to know this little dance well. They even offered to call in for Tami and check her balance–after warning her that the call came with a fee. This was too much for her, and she decided to complain after carefully spending every penny on the card. The mall representative denied that there was a fee, despite the reports from the stores. She, supposedly, had never heard of a fee. And, wouldn’t you know it, there doesn’t seem to be a fee at the present time, as this fee schedule makes clear.
This tripped Tami’s weirdness detector. Why would the stores lie about the fees? Something wasn’t right. A quick Web search confirmed that things, indeed, weren’t as they seemed.
The fees and expirations on Simon’s gift cards have earned it several lawsuits from state attorneys general, including Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. At least one online report about the lawsuits reveals the fee the store clerks were referring to: a 50 cent fee on checking the current balance. I won’t say that the mall rep was lying–she might just be new, and unaware–but it’s a bit shady on Simon’s part to imply that the store clerks were lying. And when vendors play such games, I don’t generally need direct evidence to conclude that something’s not right.
Now, to Simon’s credit, they aren’t hiding any of the fees they currently charge. I was aware of the fees that are the subject of the lawsuits when I bought the card. On the other hand, I wasn’t aware of the hassle associated with using the card, which seems designed to ensure that some available balance is left on the card. Combined with the expiration date and the other fees, that looks dishonest to me.
Really, I couldn’t care less about the fees by themselves. But the obstacles they erect to getting your money out of the card is a different matter. I won’t be buying any more of these cards, and I suggest you not buy them either–especially if you’re buying us a gift.