Step-by-step instructions on how to get back a lost or missing gift card.

lost and found sign
photo credit: presta via photopin cc

My brother called the other day to complain that he’d lost a gift card. He wanted to know if I had any tricks for getting it back. Like a crime scene investigator, to answer his question, I first needed to understand how he treated the gift card before he lost it. It’s not good. He allegedly put the now-missing gift card in his pant pocket, but he could have thrown it on the counter next to the mail, or (most likely) left it inside the greeting card the gift card came in–which he can’t find either. This case is about to go cold.

You’ve heard the saying, “treat gift cards like cash?” Well, that advice makes sense if you think about my brother’s M.O.. Had he opened a greeting card and found a 20 dollar bill, I doubt he would have stuffed the cash in his pocket, tossed it on the counter or left it in the card. He likely would have immediately put the money in his wallet. He should have done the very same thing with his gift card.

The only sure way to get a lost gift card back is to have access to the gift card number or activation receipt. Though you’re unlikely to recover a gift card without those things, there are still a few things you might be able to do.

How to Make Recovering a Lost Gift Card Possible

The key to recovering a missing gift card is knowing the gift card number or having the gift card receipt–even if the physical plastic is missing. Here are a few things you can do to make this an open and shut case:

Put the Gift Card in Your Wallet

By putting the gift card in your wallet next to the credit and debit cards you use most often, you’re more likely to see the gift card on a regular basis. Seeing the gift card will help you use it in a timely manner. Using the card quickly prevents you from losing it instead.

Record the Gift Card Number

This is very old school, but simply writing the gift card number (and PIN, if it has one), on a notepad, in your smartphone or in a journal is a simple way to keep track of the gift card numbers you haven’t used. If you lose the physical plastic, you can always spend the gift card online or call the issuing gift card company to order a replacement.

Enter the Gift Card in an App

I enter my gift cards into smartphone apps like GoWallet and TangoCard. I use gift card apps to keep track of balances and to be able to use my gift cards in stores without carrying the plastic. For me, the apps are useful beyond just making sure I have a way to recover a lost gift card.

Register the Gift Card

Even if you expect to use the gift card fairly quickly, it’s a good idea to register the gift card at the issuing company. At, you can register your gift card when you activate it. Others companies do the same. It’s a lot easier to work with a company on replacing a card if they already have you in their system.

Save the Activation Receipt

This isn’t my favorite thing to do when giving a gift because it looks…ugly, but I frequently tuck the purchase receipt of a gift card into the gift card holder. This way, the recipient has a record of the purchase if anything goes wrong. If you receive the activation slip, hold onto it until the gift card is fully redeemed.

Can I Get My Lost Gift Card Back?

Without the gift card number or activation receipt, getting a missing card back may be a challenge. Though here are a few strategies to try:

Ask the Giver

If you don’t have the receipt and didn’t register or write the gift card number down, then you may want to ask the giver if he or she has a record of the purchase. Since gift cards can be purchased in a variety of ways, you may be surprised to find that the person who gave you the gift card still has an activation receipt or ordered the gift card through a website that tracks the gift cards purchased (e.g. credit card company, bank, etc.).

Partial Purchase

If you used part of the gift card already, the company may have a record of the purchase which might give you the gift card number used. If you used the gift card online, then the website you ordered from may still have your gift card number in their system (or may auto-fill the number if you return to the same website). It’s a long shot, but something you could try.

Small Company

Smaller companies that sell just a few gift cards a month may be able to look the gift card up in their system. If you have good information on when, where and how much the gift card was for, they might be able to help. This is also a very long shot.

Check With the Credit Card Company

This is another long shot. If you purchased the gift card yourself and just can’t find it (or you gave a gift card to someone who lost it and needs your help recovering the card), you might be able to contact your bank or credit card company. See if they have a record of the purchase transaction that can be used to trace details on the original gift card purchase or if they have a buyer protection policy to help with lost or stolen merchandise.

The Final Verdict

My brother is out of luck. He didn’t treat the gift card like cash, he didn’t write down the number or get an activation receipt and he hadn’t registered the gift card anywhere. All he got out of this particular gift card, is a lesson learned.

In my experience, retailers and gift card issuers are willing to work with you on recovering or replacing a lost gift card provided you have proof that the gift card is/was yours. That proof comes in the shape of knowing the gift card number, when it was purchased, the dollar amount on the card, and so forth. Without that information, asking for a replacement gift card is like asking for a replacement 20 dollar bill…not likely to happen. Wish I had better news.

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend