PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It has happened to us all at one time or another, you buy what you think is the perfect gift for someone and they don’t like it.

Fortunately, if they have a gift receipt, they can exchange it, and no ones feelings get hurt. But we found a problem at one big retailer. 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan has uncovered a gift receipt rip-off that could make you look cheap!

You think it’s the perfect gift. They think it’s just plain ugly or downright useless. That’s when a gift receipt can come in handy. When David Schmitz changed his mind about giving a make-up kit as a gift, he returned it to Wal-Mart using the gift receipt. But he says they were only going to refund half of what he paid, because the item had since gone on sale.

Schmitz says, “I bought the item, I know what I paid for it, I paid $15, I didn’t pay $7.50.” In fact his original receipt proves it! Schmitz says, “I knew I spent $15 dollars and I wasn’t going to take less.” After Schmitz argued that a gift receipt and regular receipt should work the same, the store manager refunded the full amount. Schmitz says, “But the average person isn’t going to know.”

Could this be happening to others? 3 On Your Side went shopping at several Wal-Mart stores with our hidden cameras to find out, purchasing seasonal and holiday items that we thought were likely to go on sale.

We paid $31.03 for an electric blanket. But when we returned it using our gift receipt, we only got back $20.33. When we inquired that we thought we were owed more than that, the Wal-Mart customer service representative told us that since we didn’t have a receipt listing the actual price, she had to give us whatever came up in the register. So Wal-Mart pocketed $10.70 of our money!

We also purchased boots and a t-shirt. The combined cost was $14 dollars. But when we returned them using the gift receipt we were credited for only $10! Again, when we inquired about the discrepancy the customer service representative told us that since the receipt doesn’t list the prices, whatever the register scans is what you get.

We also bought two St. Patrick’s Day t-shirts. They cost us $5 a piece. Yet when we returned them using a gift receipt we only got half our money back, $5 total in the form of a gift card.

Irish eyes aren’t smiling in other parts of the country either. When our sister station in Sacramento took similar shopping trips, they only got back 50 percent of what they paid for some items too.

Consumer Advocate Edgar Dworsky says, “That’s just crazy.” Dworsky was dumbfounded when we told him what happened during our shopping trips. He says, “The whole point of a gift receipt is to get back exactly what the gift giver paid. You should be getting every penny’s worth what was paid for, not the lowest price, absolutely not.”

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Wal-Mart wouldn’t agree to 3 On Your Side’s request for an on-camera interview but in a statement says it’s their practice to refund the original price paid to the customer when returning an item with a gift receipt. But no one we encountered seemed to know that. In fact one Wal-Mart customer service representative told us, “If it is on sale, that’s the price that you get.”

Consumer attorney Stuart Tally believes Wal-Mart is pocketing millions of dollars due to this. He says, “What Wal-Mart knows is the person who gave the gift will never tell the person who received the gift how much they paid. And they know the person who returned the gift will never report to the gift-giver that they returned the gift.”

The whole situation has lead David Schmitz to say, “I would never get a gift receipt from Wal-Mart because it’s basically useless.”

Again, Wal-Mart says you’re supposed to get back what the buyer paid when you make a return using a gift receipt. We returned all of our items well within the 90 day return period and pretty much Wal-Mart is blaming their employees for these errors. The company says it will be working with the sales associates to reinforce its return policy.

Not all retailers refund the full price on returns, especially when it comes to holiday and seasonal items. But Wal-Mart does. If you have a problem getting what you believe is the full refund when using a gift receipt for a return, ask to speak with the store manager.

Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS 3

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