Fire victim finds forgotten $2K in relief gift cards, but they were expired. Can she still cash in?

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury KGO logo
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Fire victim finds $2K in expired relief gift cards. Can she cash in?
Struggling to rebuild after the 2017 fires, a North Bay woman found her forgotten gift cards with $2,000 in relief funds -- but they expired.

NAPA, Calif. (KGO) -- Wildfires have devastated the lives of so many Californians -- including a North Bay woman who lost everything in 2017. Then, just recently, she came across a forgotten gift: prepaid debit cards given to her by charitable groups, worth thousands of dollars. The only problem? They were expired. Could she still cash them?

Marti Brennan won't soon forget the night she fled her house.

"A friend called and said you know, get out, the fires are really coming," she said. "I grabbed a pillow and some blankets and the clothes I was going to wear the next day."

Brennan never figured the fire could reach her home.

"There was a picture of my mom when she was two years old... and I thought, should I take that with me? I thought, no, I'll be back tomorrow," Brennan said.

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But she wasn't.

"He just came in and said, the house is gone. And I said, 'What?' And he said, 'Completely gone,'" she said. "It was kind of unbelievable. It was kind of like surreal."

Brennan spent months moving from place to place, struggling to rebuild her life. During the crisis, wildfire relief groups provided four gift cards loaded with $500 apiece.

"And I just put them in an envelope, 'Oh I'll use them later.' And totally forgot about them. Totally forgot about it," she said.

Brennan finally let herself dig through papers from that terrible time... then a surprise, as if out of the ashes.

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"And there I found the cards and I went, 'Oh! Whoa, this is a lot of money," she said.

Brennan thought she'd just found $2,000 buried in those cards -- until she saw the expiration date.

August of 2020.

"I was ready to cut them up and throw them away because I thought well, they're no good," she said.

Brennan's son told her gift cards cannot expire under California law. He contacted the bank.

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"'We'll get back to you,' and they never did," he said. "That's when I said call Michael Finney."

Turns out that bank cards like these are exempt from those gift card laws; they are allowed to expire.

However, after 7 On Your Side contacted U.S. Bank, the company told Brennan it would replace the cards with new ones, saying they'd never been activated.

"They said, 'We're going to refund you the full amount on each card, and you should get them in the mail in two weeks,'" Brennan said.

Truly like coming out of the ashes.

A huge thanks to U.S. bank for recovering that money for Brennan. Just a note, the gift card law applies mainly to retailers and restaurants that sell gift cards for their own stores. Those cards cannot expire. But bank cards are not held to that rule.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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