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Yesterday I wrote about my recent dealings in the world of gift cards and prepaid cards to earn miles and points. “Manufactured spending” as it is coined by some is not my primary focus, but I do like to use some methods to shift around my spending to earn miles and points for purchases I otherwise would miss out on – like student loans, places I need to pay by check, etc. What is interesting is that in the world of prepaid cards we often hear references to lots of fraud, scams, etc, but since that isn’t what we are using it for, most of us don’t pay much attention to these stories of theft, money laundering, etc. Even folks on Flyertalk were the victims of some Vanilla Reload scams in Atlanta. In fact when a store like Office Depot decides to stop carrying a product like Vanilla Reloads and cites fraud as a reason some in our community were skeptical and thought it must somehow be related to miles and points junkies who like to legitimately buy them in large quantities.
So while the story I am going to share is not directly related to miles and points, I think enough of us are involved with prepaid cards that it is at least tangentially interesting. There is a older woman who lives on my street who has known my mom since she was born. She knits the blankets that can be seen in virtually every picture of my kid on an airplane, and still substitute teaches high school at close to 90 years old – and if you can still hang with high school kids these days you certainly are not an archaic bump on a log. Earlier this week she was contacted by phone and informed she had won some type of grant, and to claim it she needed to purchase some Green Dot Money Packs to pay for the transfer fees or something. I’m not clear on all the details, but you get the gist. It’s like all those lovely emails we get from Nigeria – just in the form of a friendly telephone call and prepaid cards. In fact my mom also received a similar phone call that she quickly ended.
I would either never answer an unfamiliar phone number in the first place, or hang up immediately if someone called me with something like this. However, she is from another generation, is more trusting, less familiar with scams, and chatted with them answering many of their very personal questions (much to the shock and horror of my family when we found out). Turns out she went as far as to drive to the store they told her to visit to buy the Green Dot cards – Walgreens. Here is where the story gets even more interesting.
She is obviously not at all familiar with prepaids, reloads, money packs, etc. so was asking for some assistance from the folks at Walgreens. They heard enough of her story and why she was looking for them to assist her in identifying she was being scammed. First kudos to a store looking out for their customers, but it also speaks to me that this isn’t the store’s first rodeo with scams involving this type of card. Clearly this is just one story, but it brought home for me that we are dealing with products that are used for more nefarious purposes with some regularity, and if a store or a clerk ever raises an eyebrow at our purchases it might be for a good reason. Not that it is fun being looked at funny while in the gift card rack.
It also makes sense if a store (like Office Depot) decides at some point that the downsides with carrying them outweighed the profits. Hopefully that won’t continue to happen at the places that do still carry these types of cards, but hearing about this experience helped me put into perspective some of the ways that stores handle these products and purchases. It also reminded me to help watch out for your friends and family members who may be more trusting than most of us so they don’t get scammed!
Have you experienced any fraud, scam, or other issues involving these types of cards?