When his Jeep was stolen in the middle of the night, Ed Sullins thought it was gone forever.
The police had no leads, he said.
"I went through the seven stages of grief," he said. "I had taken excellent care of it."
But it wasn't long before he noticed the Starbucks gift card he had left inside the Jeep was being used.
"Apparently the guys that took the card like caramel Frappucinos," he said, "because that's what it showed that they were purchasing."
Before it was stolen, Sullins had done something many shoppers don't think to do.
He registered his gift card with the company.
That information gave cops a big lead: They tracked where the card was used, and the local Starbucks location was able to pull surveillance photos of the suspects from their security cameras.
Starbucks, however, is just one of the companies that allows customers to register gift cards in case they're eventually lost, according to CreditCards.com's Ben Woolsey.
"If they can register it with a retailer's website, that certainly something they should do," he said.
But oftentimes, Woolsey said, companies will freeze and transfer the balance of your gift card to a new one ... even if they don't have specific policies on the issue.
Snapping a photo of the gift card number, access or security scratch-off codes, and making sure you know the balance will often help get it replaced.
"If you do that you can pretty much always get it replaced at no cost from the retailer," he said.
So a CBS Sacramento producer called a number of major retail stores, posing as a customer with a lost gift card, saying we had a photo of it. Of Walmart, Sears, Target and Best Buy, only Target said the card couldn't be replaced without the original receipt.
Customers, however, have to act fast. Sullins only got $0.29 back, since he waited until the suspects had used most of his card.
And the added bonus of registration? For Sullins, giving cops a direction and finding the suspects.
Sullins received an insurance payment for his Jeep, but police eventually found the Jeep, totalled, in a Copperopolis ravine.
"Thank you, Starbucks," he said, laughing.
Police are still investigating.
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