When Tim Brown bought his brother Robin some Loblaw grocery gift certificates for Christmas on Dec. 7, he figured the $200 would be a much-appreciated present. And he was correct.
There was just one problem.
“I gave them the cards and they (the store staff) said ‘there’s no money on them,'” Robin, 63, says he was told when he went to use them at a No Frills store in Burlington, Ont.
His sister, Bonnie Crumpton, offered to pay for the $68 in groceries, because the balance on both cards was zero.
Robin, a person with a disability and a busy community volunteer, did not have other money to pay for the food that day. He was relying on the gift cards.
“He would have walked away and been done,” without taking the groceries, said Bonnie, who was glad she was with her brother at the time the gift cards were rejected.
Tim, who bought the cards at a Zehrs store, another Loblaw brand, in St. Catharines, Ont., says the gift cards must have been compromised, even though the grocery giant denied it.
“Loblaw’s customer service is telling me their cards are very secure and they cannot be copied. They tell me they have never had an issue. I find that very hard to believe,” Tim wrote in an email that sparked a Global News report about the gift card issue.
Both Tim and Bonnie were shocked by the grocery store’s response. They had a valid receipt for the purchased gift cards, which they said were nestled in an envelope under a Christmas tree. No one in their family previously redeemed the cards, they insisted.
But Loblaw told Tim and Bonnie that the cards had been used by someone in Toronto and in Burlington.
Gift card fraud, where hackers and thieves steal the balance of cards, has been a problem for many years with retailers.
Around the same period Loblaw was denying the possibility that Robin’s balance has been stolen, the company was publicly admitting customers of its PC Points loyalty program had been victims of a wide-scale hacking. Loblaw acknowledged that customers’ points had been stolen in the breach. It asked customers to reset their passwords.
But contacted by Global News, Loblaw continued to maintain there was nothing wrong with Brown’s gift cards.
“We completed a thorough investigation of this situation when it was brought to our attention. During our investigation we did not find evidence of fraudulent activity,” said Tammy Smitham, the company’s vice president of external communications.
Loblaw declined an on-camera interview request to explain further. The company agreed to a refund instead.
“We understand this has been an inconvenience for Mr. Brown and we will be reimbursing him the $200,” Loblaw wrote.
Tim and Bonnie said a refund wasn’t the some issue: more important they say they wanted to draw attention to the company’s denials of responsibility and to warn other consumers.
“There is no way that Robin can be the only victim here. No way at all,” said Tim after hearing about the Loblaw refund.
“Glad I kept the receipts but even then, it wasn’t enough until I got you involved,” said Tim.