$300 from a Macy's gift card - vanished

Leo Shulzitski bought a $300 Macy's gift card for his mother's birthday in August. The first time she tried to use it, to buy a winter coat at a store in September, Macy's said that virtually all the money was gone - spent online, apparently by a thief in California.

Worst of all, Macy's has so far just said that Margaret Shulzitski is simply out of luck. As the company's website puts it under gift-card "terms and conditions," the card's bearer is "responsible for its loss or theft."

Shulzitski contacted me after reading my Thanksgiving column about positive gift-card trends, and an accompanying piece that noted some lingering worries - including the lack of protections for lost or stolen cards.

"Apparently gift cards can be stolen from Macy’s computer, used by other people, and Macy's does not believe they are liable for the loss. I would warn everyone to stay away from gift cards," says Shulzitski, who says he has not heard back from Macy's despite numerous attempts to contact the company.

"I finally walked into a local store," says Shulzitski, of Harleysville, Pa.  "That’s the only way I’ve gotten anybody to talk to me."  But so far, all he's gotten at the store is a little talk and sympathy.

I haven't heard back from Macy's either, despite several attempts to reach a company spokesman. I'll let you know what I hear.

Consumer advocates and analysts such as Brian Riley, of Tower Group, say the lack of protection for lost or stolen gift cards is a major shortcoming. Click here to see the Federal Trade Commission's warnings on the cards.

That shortcoming makes them riskier than other forms of plastic payment.

If a credit card is lost or stolen, a cardholder's liability is limited to $50 under federal regulations. If an ordinary debit card is lost or stolen, federal rules limit a cardholder's liability to $500, though Visa and MasterCard have long touted a "zero liability" policy for their branded debit cards, which can be used with just a signature and without the protection of a secret PIN code.

But a gift card - even if the theft might have occurred from Macy's computer system?

Apparently you're just stuck.