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Starbucks: Tarnished Gold

Jeff Linamen

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If you asked my opinion of what I considered to be one of the best (or best branded) companies in America my answer would be easy : Starbucks.

I jumped on the Starbucks bandwagon long after the craze started but quickly became addicted to everything that Starbucks represents. It has such a positive vibe. I love the company’s philosophies and community involvement… not to mention great coffee and amazing baristas.

A typical cup of dark roast.

A typical cup of dark roast.

They have a solid brand and business model, a quality product line — and create a friendly, laid back, in-store atmosphere that feels like home. What could be better than that?

How about a rewards programs for frequent customers?

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I’ve been a Gold Card Rewards member since October of 2011. The kids at school seldom saw me without a cup of joe in my hand.

30 stars (purchases) and you’re a gold card holder. Then every 12  you get a free drink or food item. Beautiful!

So imagine my dismay when early last May, they swiped my card and it came up ACCOUNT DOESN’T EXIST! Imagine the confusion and embarrassment! Especially, since I had just reloaded my card the day before.

What’s the deal Starbucks?

It seems that all that glitters, isn’t gold. Or at least in my case, the gold was somehow tarnished. My account was frozen… and so was my cash. So what was the deal?

As it turns out, when you sign the agreement for terms of service on the rewards account, you are also agreeing to not purchase any cards or e-certificates from third party vendors. But what exactly does that mean? (They don’t consider Facebook, Target or other retail stores third party!)

Well, after several months and a half dozen calls to customer service, I still don’t have a clear answer. The best I could gather is that if you buy a card or certificate from anyone but Starbucks– you risk having your account frozen. I was merging cards and certificates (even ones purchased directly from Starbucks) and somehow my account was flagged and frozen.

And it’s still not resolved.

The last customer service rep I spoke with (for over an hour), did their best to explain what might have happened. I guess their accounting, card and tracking systems aren’t advanced enough to know whether cards are accurate and purchased legally, so this is their attempt at preventing fraud. But isn’t freezing my money that they let me load on the card a form of fraud in itself?

So here I was, gold card frozen and my faith in one of the current, great companies in America: TARNISHED. It took me some time to process it and decide if I should stop frequenting Starbucks. I really had to look at the situation from both sides.

I had purchased a few cards online from gift card sites that sold them at a small discount. We all want to save money, right? Bottom line is that Starbucks can’t seem to tell whether these cards are legally purchased, fraudulent, or stolen.

Luckily, I was able to get my money back from the website I purchased the cards from– but here it is over three months later and Starbucks still has not resolved the issue and their fraud department has not completed their investigation.

I have repeatedly offered to help in any way I can but they tell me there is nothing I can do and I probably will not see any restitution or reinstatement of my gold card. Not very good customer service.

After my last call, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt for the time being, and start a new account from scratch and I just achieved gold status on my new account a few days ago.

What angers me about this is that I can’t understand why a company of this size would treat one of their elite reward members like this. They have made no effort to contact me in anyway regarding any type of resolution, nor did any of the customer service reps apologize for the inconvenience or assure me that I was a valued customer.

On the other hand, the baristas and store managers I have spoken with have been absolutely wonderful. They’ve given me free drinks, apologized for the inconvenience and asked me for updates.

So I’ve decided to give it a little more time but corporate really needs to get their act together on this or I will stop supporting them with my patronage.

In the meantime, I’m cutting back and grinding more beans on my own.


  1. Ellen says:

    Hi there, I got 4 starbucks gift cards for Christmas (3 with 15$ and 1 with 10$ so shouldn’t have been any flagging of my account) transferred the balances to the card I use most often and they just froze (READ: stole my entire balance including what was already on the card before this happened) my account like they did yours. Im not sure when you wrote this post, but has your problem been resolved? Were you able to do anything to convince them to return the money they took?


    • jlinamen1229 says:

      Try calling them. They may try and tell you the cards were purchased third-party and there is nothing they can/will do but they also may be able to fix it. I lost money from cards I bought online and was able to get part back from where I bought them and some I lost. Customer Service will be able to release any funds they deem ‘legal’ but will issue you a new card with the money on it instead of releasing any hold on the card in question. Good Luck!


  2. John says:

    I bought a Starbucks gift card from an eBay seller (“binusa2007”) who had 100% positive feedback selling numerous Starbucks gift cards recently . On 1/6/14, I transferred its $200 balance to my Starbucks Gold Card, whose balance prior to the transfer was $155.69 (i.e., after the transfer, the balance was $355.69). Tonight (1/11/14) when I tried to use my Gold Card to pay for a drink at a Starbucks store, the cashier told me my account was frozen or cancelled. I then called 800-STARBUCKS and spoke to Keandra in Customer Service, who told me the Starbucks Asset Protection department had closed my account, and my entire balance was forfeited. I explained that it was not my fault that the $200 gift card I purchased was invalid, and I asked to be reimbursed for the approximately $152 remaining on the card. She said that according to the Starbucks Card Terms And Conditions, Starbucks could forfeit the entire balance of a registered Starbucks Card for fraudulent transactions.

    I insisted that I be reimbursed the approx. $152 balance (after deducting the $200 from the 1/6/14 transfer) because:
    1) I had no way of knowing that the $200 Gift Card was fraudulent; in fact, I had every reason to believe it was valid and the eBay seller was reputable and honest;
    2) I was never informed of the Terms and Conditions to which Keandra referred; if I had known, I would have not transferred the balance of the $200 Gift Card to my Gold Card, but would have used it independently of the Gold Card.
    3) I assume the Terms & Conditions to which Keandra referred are these: “Starbucks reserves the right to terminate your account and/or your participation in My Starbucks Rewards if Starbucks determines in its sole discretion that you have violated these Terms of Use, you have more than one (1) account, or that the use of your account is unauthorized, deceptive, fraudulent or otherwise unlawful.” I just found this text in the My Starbucks Rewards™ Program link on the Starbucks website. I certainly would not knowingly use a fraudulent Gift Card, and it is unfair that Starbucks is punishing me for unwittingly using a Gift Card whose validity I had no way of verifying.

    I called eBay to change the positive feedback I’d left for “binusa2007” to negative feedback. The person (Troy) in Customer Service I spoke to said positive feedback cannot be changed to negative feedback. – So there may have been others, like me, who received Starbucks gift cards, but who left positive feedback before discovering they were fraudulent. So when I went to purchase one, all I saw were positive reviews! eBay favors the rip-off artists, and we eBay buyers suffer! I’m really fed up!!!!!


    • jlinamen1229 says:

      John, This is EXACTLY what happened to me! Except I purchased mine through a site that only sells gift cards. I got the same story from Starbucks and about ‘the policy’. I was able to get back the amount I loaded directly from my bank account but they issued it on a separate card. I had to start over and build up to a new gold card status using a different email address but then they didn’t send me a new gold card, even though I have gold card status. It has been a year now and Starbucks ‘investigation’ is still not complete! My original gold card is still registered as valid but inactive or frozen and they still have not released my funds OR contacted me with proof that that gift card I transferred to my gold card was fraudulent. Bottom line is that Starbucks is the real thief here. I feel bad for the customer service reps and the baristas that have had to deal with my rantings because none of this is their fault. Corporate REFUSES to respond or address this with any ounce of sincerity. I haven’t boycotted yet, but I spend a fraction of what I used to there. I wish I could be heard. I still want to believe in this company but can’t find the right person to listen.


      • John says:

        I’m filing complaints with my local (county) consumer affairs office, the FTC, and my state’s consumer protection office. Starbucks wiped out all record of my Gold Card transactions. They have no right to confiscate my original $152.00. I’ll probably also file complaints against eBay because (if positive feedback can’t be changed) there’s no way to tell if a scammer like “binusa2007” has recently sold fraudulent Starbucks gift cards.


  3. jlinamen1229 says:

    I meant to add that you should try and contact the ebay seller… they may or may NOT be selling fraudulent cards! Don’t assume this is the case. Also, if time hasn’t run out, you are protected by ebay and should still be able to file a case and get a refund even though you posted feedback, AND whether or not the card/certificate was fraudulent or legitimate. Feedback has nothing to do with filing a case and getting a refund! You can also file a claim with paypal and/or CC company to be refunded.

    If you file a case, ebay WILL investigate, suspend and file charges against the seller if they are selling fraudulent cards.

    Keep me posted. You lit a fire under me to act.


  4. John says:

    I already filed a case with eBay and disputed the eBay gift card transaction on my credit card. If the seller isn’t selling fraudulent cards, then why did Starbucks cancel my account after I loaded that eBay gift card on it?


  5. jlinamen1229 says:

    Somehow they track how/where they are purchased. If you purchase 3rd party (not from Starbucks directly or a licensed retailer) they immediately suspend you. Somehow they know by that number if you are using it (maybe by location?) but didn’t purchase it yourself from the ‘original source’. Sometimes, yes they were reported stolen or unauthorized purchases… but Starbucks told me they can’t track that! It makes no sense. I was told it could even happen sometimes if I transferred the balance from a gift card purchased directly from Starbuck by another person as a gift! If you used the card or certificate WITHOUT linking it to your Starbucks account, it will work fine. That’s what they told me. Poor tracking and management. I don’t transfer anything to my card anymore without calling customer service and making them do it manually over the phone ‘verifying’ validity.

    Oh, and I was told one reason was… as a ‘member’ you get free drinks so they don’t think you should get those by also buying and using discounted cards. Then you are getting ‘two discounts’ or perks.


    • John says:

      Well, if that’s the case, Why doesn’t Starbucks explain that on their website? i.e., IF YOU DON’T WANT YOUR ACCOUNT CLOSED, DON’T REGISTER STARBUCKS GIFT CARDS PURCHASED FROM 3rd PARTIES. Also, they never explained that to me in my phone calls with Starbucks customer service. This really pisses me off. Also, they deleted all my Gold Card transactions so I can’t see what my exact balance was. I just finished filing my complaints with county & state Consumer Affairs and the FTC. But I feel the need to broadcast this deceptive practice of Starbucks on the internet – so everybody can see it. I mean, here’s a company that makes about 1,000% profit on their cups of coffee, has bullied out competition from local coffee shops so that it’s tough to find espresso except at a Starbucks, and they’re screwing their Gold Card holders. Infuriating.


  6. John says:

    Update: A woman from Starbucks customer service told me today that Starbucks would investigate and check to see that my Starbucks Gold Card’s pre-eBay gift card balance was valid so they could re-issue it to me. I also got copies of letters the State Atty, General’s office and County Consumer Affairs office sent to Starbucks. I also spoke to someone in eBay’s Trust & Safety Dept. who said their Fraud Team would investigate the eBay seller and notify me by tomorrow of the results. I noticed from that seller’s feedback that someone bought one of his Starbucks cards after me and gave this Neutral feedback: “card had $0, but seller gave refund.” I think this seller must be aware that the cards he’s selling are fraudulent, because he readily issued a refund and didn’t contest my fraud allegations. Was I stupid for buying this gift card in the first place? I’d made many other safe eBay transactions prior to this, and their Buyer Protection plan is enforced, but how was I supposed to know that there are so many eBay gift card scammers? According to http://elliott.org/problem-solved/i-feel-like-starbucks-is-stealing-money-from-me/#comment-1207759815, “Here’s how the deception works: A thief will steal a credit card number and charge thousands of dollars worth of Starbucks credit to it, then resell it at a discount through a site like eBay.” Oh sure, it’s easy to say we shouldn’t’ve bought these gift cards, but if a seller had 100% positive feedback and had recently sold 30-40 or so of the same item with no complaints, wouldn’t that give you confidence? But you’re right about not going to Starbucks as much as I used to (I hardly go at all now), and I will be very careful about buying anything on eBay in the future.


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