Flat on the pavement, its silver raised numbers glistening in the sunlight, I found a TD Bank gift card in the middle of a quiet Astoria side street. Intending to make some effort to identify the person who lost it and return it to them I instead stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it. That was, I now know, over a year ago.
Finding the card again recently I noticed the number “21.01” hand-written on it. I also read on back of the card that a “monthly inactivity fee of $2.50” is charged against the balance on the card after 12 months of the card not being used. Assuming the “21.01” written on the card reflected the amount of cash on the card that $2.50 inactivity might well have swallowed all of the twenty-one dollars and one cent left on it.
Upon finding the card again I attempted to check its balance by calling a toll-free number printed on the card. That number, 888-294-2249, did not work when I attempted to call it, returning a rapid busy signal.
I followed instructions printed on the card and created an account at the TD Bank gift card website. The original owner evidently never did this, as the card was never registered. Finding no trace or evidence of the original owner’s identity I decided the card was mine to keep.
The card had been purchased at a TD Bank on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn on November 26, 2019. A single purchase in the amount of $3.99 at a Bed Bath & Beyond in Brooklyn was made on January 15, 2020. The $2.50 monthly inactivity fee was never imposed despite the card not being used for a year and about 4 months, leaving the available balance at $21.01, as written on the card. If the inactivity fee had been imposed the card should only have been worth $11.01.
I attempted to add value to my MetroCard with this card but was rebuffed. I needed to create a PIN, something else the original owner seemed not to have done. That makes me ask how they were able to make that $3.99 purchase, as debit cards pretty much always require a PIN
I added a PIN at the gift card website and was then able to use it to add $21.00 to a MetroCard. This left 1¢ of what is called, in the gift card business, breakage. Breakage is an accounting term used in reference to revenue earned for goods and services never sold or rendered. Somebody bought this card from TD Bank for $25. With $21.01 left on it I left 1¢ because I didn’t want a useless penny dangling on to the value of the MetroCard.
So TD Bank pockets one hot penny on this deal. I’d like to imagine this throws their accounting ledgers into disarray, but that seems unlikely.
A few years ago I happened to know somebody whose job involved issuing gift cards. It was he who explained breakage to me, and what a headache it could be, but that reform was coming to the accounting of revenue earned from breakage.
I don’t know the details of breakage reform, or if it makes 1¢ of breakage any more or less of a headache for TD Bank’s accountants. I just remember how the word sounds to me more like a digestive disorder than an accounting term.
I’ve had some luck in finding gift cards lying around, as well as MetroCards with value left on them. Recently I found three MetroCards within a couple of weeks, one with almost forty bucks to burn, another with $8.50, the other with $6.
Someone once told me the MetroCard is the most recognizable object in New York. I can believe that. I’ve found MetroCards face down on the street with artwork on the back not typical of most cards, but I recognized them anyway. It must be the chipped corner. I also remember being at a store Tampa once when I opened a wallet with a MetroCard therein. The cashier instantly recognized it, even though she had never even been to New York.
I’ve carried a Bloomingdale’s gift card I found a couple of years ago, intending to purchase something with it. But with the oddball amount of $50.82 on the card I don’t think I could buy even ½ a shirt at a place like Bloomie’s. There must be a story behind that amount of $50.82 on the card, seeing as it has never been used.
I feel like I am stealing something when I find these things but as they say, treat these cards as cash. Finders keepers. Unlike credit cards or other forms of ID I have found there is usually no way to identify who lost these type of cards. In extremely rare instances using a found MetroCard could trigger a signal somewhere in the bowels of law enforcement or the MTA, but I’ve never been called out for using a found card.
I once attempted to reunite a debit card with its owner, having reached a reasonable conclusion I had identified him at one of his social media profiles. He had a very distinctive name and lived in New York. He never responded to my message asking if he’d lost a debit card. I’ve also deposited any number of identification cards into USPS drop boxes, never knowing if they are reunited with their original owners or if they were replaced by the time they got delivered.
I got mugged at knifepoint once, by a couple of kids whose knife was almost certainly plastic and the bulges in their pants most likely not guns. They were ethical muggers. They had not intended to take my wallet but they did, depositing it into a USPS drop box. I don’t remember how long it was before it got back to me but I had already replaced everything in it before it showed up in my mailbox.