CHICAGO (CBS) – There was nothing sweet about a suburban woman's experience with a gift card on the Magnificent Mile. The Vanilla Visa card would not work, even though she had just bought it with cash.
The card issuer would not help her, so she turned to CBS 2. Lauren Victory had the scoop on this cautionary tale.
"$135 is a lot of money to me," said Gwen Thompson. "And I wasn't just going to just walk away from it."
Thompson was headed to downtown Chicago for a fun shopping day. One merchant would not accept cash, so she went to Walgreens to buy a Vanilla Visa Card. She plunked down the $135 plus a $5.95 fee, but the card would not work.
"It was declined for insufficient funds," Thompson said.
It was declined on June 7, and the Tinley Park woman just got the card to work this week. But it wasn't easy.
"I called the 1-800 number on the card and waited for about two hours," Thompson said. "And then the call was disconnected."
She even sent a screen grab of her phone more than 90 minutes into the call and had to turn to something to pass the marathon on-hold time.
"I just turned on a really good movie," Thompson said. "I think I put on like 'Shawshank Redemption,' and I just said, 'I'm gonna need to be entertained for a while.'"
While the good guy escapes prison at the end of the classic movie, Thompson's gift card hell continued.
"I wasn't prepared to just be out of my money," she said.
Thompson sent email after email, six in all.
They were all ignored.
"And I just remembered you guys," she said, referring to CBS 2. "So I'm gonna get in touch with you guys."
A few days later, there was a resolution, well, sort of.
Thompson got her money, but no explanation and no way to follow up. The "fraud department" wrote her from a customer-unfriendly "do not reply email box."
Thompson was not alone in her frustration.
There have been nearly 1,500 complaints on the Better Business Bureau website in the past three years and another 2,000 for Vanilla's parent company.
Many, like Thompson, complained about the inability to use a purchased card. Other consumer sites show hundreds more scathing reviews and complaints, with an average rating of just above one stars out of five.
That's why Thompson wanted to spread the word, instead of suffering in silence.
"That madness has to go into some kind of action and that's what I did," she said.
And Thompson is not alone. She's researching what else she can do to file complaints and warn others about Vanilla card. CBS 2 pressed Vanilla for answers about Thompson's case and a large number of complaints in general.
But CBS 2 does have some advice onto help advocate for yourself.
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