When thieves steal our points

Last week I stepped into my local Office Depot and saw a scary sight.  A sign on the gift card rack declared that prepaid cards can be purchased with cash or debit only

Uh oh

I had, of course, gone to the store with the intent of buying more Vanilla Reload Network cards.  By buying these with my Ink Bold I would earn 5 points per dollar.  I would then (at home) load each card’s value onto my American Express Prepaid cards.  At that point, all purchases made with the Amex cards (as well as ATM withdrawals) would be roughly equivalent to getting 5 points per dollar.  If you’re not yet familiar with this idea, please read “One card to rule them all”. 

I took a few cards to the register, just in case.  The cashier immediately reiterated the rule listed on the sign: “cash or debit only”.  I reminded her that I’ve been buying these for a while with a credit card, and she quickly offered to seek a manager’s override. 

The manager came over and the sale went through (using my Ink Bold) without any further issue.  I asked the manager why the policy had changed and he told me that there has been a lot of fraud.  People have been essentially stealing these cards.

After the manager walked away, the cashier described to me one of the schemes thieves have used to steal these cards.  She gave me so much information that if I were dishonest I could do it myself.  It only occurred to me after I left that I should have warned her not to tell the story so readily.

Thieves are stealing our points

Thanks to criminals ripping off Office Depot stores, our ability to leverage these cards for points is getting harder every day.  I’ve heard reports from San Francisco that stores there also require cash or debit.  In New York City, some readers were told that they were sold out and were not planning to restock.

Is it just a matter of time before this deal is dead for everyone?

Reader experiences

What has your experience been at your local Office Depot stores?  Have the cards been in-stock?  Have you been able to pay with a credit card?  Please comment below.  Let us know what state or major city you looked in and what happened.  Have you seen reload cards at any other stores?  If so, do those stores allow credit card purchases?  Thanks in advance.

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Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. […] Vanilla Reload:  Another key to success here is the ability to buy Vanilla Reload cards at Office Depot using your credit card.  Some Office Depot stores have stopped selling the cards and some others have posted signs saying “cash or debit only” for buying prepaid cards.  Fortunately, most stores still allow these purchases.  Many readers have reported ongoing success in the comments of the post “When thieves steal our points”. […]


  1. @Gabe, yep, thats the same OD. Have you found one in the area to be more reasonable? Check my ID all you want, but there shouldn’t be a 10 minute phone call where I look like a jerk the whole time to all other customers. Like you, the cashier wanted to know “why” I was buying them, even though she just asked casually. What does it matter? You sell them for a reason. Why not ask why I need a ream of paper before you sell it to me?

  2. Here’s my story.

    I bought an amex card with $500 and 4 more $500 reload cards at the end of April. (in Virginia, near on Gallows road, near Tysons Corner).

    First thing I learned was that you can’t add to the temp card, so I had to wait for the permanent one to arrive.

    Next, I tried to load the $2k on the permanent card, but found out that vanilla (or amex?) has a $1000 limit per day. No big deal, I got it all loaded on.

    I used about $2k of it for an airline ticket and a pair of hotel stays (2 week trip), so I went to buy more reloads.

    OD at Sterling, VA said they don’t carry them anymore due to fraud.

    Then OD in Colorado Springs had some, so I bought 3K. Manager took IB card and ID and photocopied both, called Chase and got OK. Then ran the receipt and pulled out an old knuckle-buster CC machine and ran the store copy of the receipt on it to imprint the card.

    I got back to the hotel and tried to load $1K on the card and got an error. Vanilla said Amex limits loads to $2500 per month, so I have to wait a week.

    Called Amex and they said that’s true, but they’ll issue three prepaids per SSN, so I ordered a second one. That arrived today and I loaded 1K on it, will do the same tomorrow. Next week, I’ll add the last 1K to the first card.

    I plan to carry the second card and put the first one on my Amazon account as primary card, since I live in a rural area and do a lot of shopping at Amzn. (Free Prime delivery).

  3. you have lots of great ideas frequent miler! i wonder how many millions of miles you’e accumulated over the years.

  4. Well I think the OD ‘gravy’ trail may be near it’s end. I went to my local OD to buy $500 Visa GC’s today (same store I have been going to for a couple of months without any problems) and the manager went into good detail with me as she knows me by now (in a good ‘customer’ sort of way). Anyway they have pulled all $500 Visa/AmEx GC’s as well as the Visa reload cards from the displays. Supposedly they have received a Company-wide directive as they have found out people have been using these cards for “money laundering” purposes (in her words, lol). Unfortunately I don’t think she was making up any of this and the extreme surge in GC purchases over the past couple of months (company wide) may have actually pushed OD over the edge that they will now stop this gravy trail. The mgr also said as per the directive the stores are being ordered not to sell the larger amount GCs and any AmEx prepaid stuff until OD as a company figures out a “solution”. This store had also taken down their AmEx Prepaid Cards end cap from the sakes floor. I personally don’t believe this was a bluff from the manager as I had built a good relationship with her but YMMV and I would really like to hear feedback from other people and their very recent or future experiences at their local OD’s.

  5. I bought my first $500 vanilla reload card before close (~9pm EST, right after the bball game). No problem, just checked my ID.
    Will have to go back today if what CodeAdam10 says is true. I JUST got this card because of how long it took for Chase to verify my business =/

  6. Baltimore, Maryland. On a Wednesday at 720pm. Walked in, picked up 2 Vanilla Reloads. Put $500 on each. And picked up a Kit Kat bar. Paid with my Ink Bold. Went home. Loaded. Confirmed balance. No problems here. Friends, make sure to buy a candy bar, it will chill the OD peeps out!

  7. Multiple locations in Seattle are fine. We have stocked up on a number of minor office supplies – I agree with MKHFNR that purchases (large ones especially) in multiples of $500 are kinda obvious.

  8. Wow, OK! Thanks all. This is a relief. I was talking about the OD in NYC (there’s only one). From this I’m going to guess its possibly a district-wide directive due to some type of CC fraud issues maybe. Still no-go for me today. Looks like I’ll be driving to NJ to stock up! o__o

  9. I went to the Chicago Ashland store and the manager had to make a call to Chase to clear purchase. This was for 3 reload purchases. I have since purchased 2 reloads with no problem.

  10. I used the vanilla reload / netspend / cash advance at my bank process. Worked fine for 4 X 500 – then netspend closed my account. I called customer service and he said the only note on the account was “closed. corporate decision”. And I am not eligible for another netspend account.

  11. Roger: good to know. Still worth it for a one-time deal to help clear a minimum spend for a bonus.

    I wonder what frequency / amount triggers this closing and if paying taxes using a PIN transaction (or buying money orders) would cause a closing of account as well.

  12. I went to a different store today in the Dallas Ft Worth area. Each time I go to OD I purchase 2500.00 of Vanilla Reload cards. Each time my Drivers License is surveyed carefully and matched against my appearance and my credit card. Each time my purchase is allowed without further delays. I thought I would try a different OD than I normally visit just to see how things were in a wider area from where I live. There were no signs posted that only cash could be used or that sales were being discontinued. I does seem that when such a large sale is run up on their registers it causes a prompt to appear on the screen requiring that the sales clerk require a manager’s second opinion before the sale can go through.

    • Thanks for sharing, everyone! It is comforting to see that most people have had no problems buying the reload cards. FYI, I returned to the same OD in Ann Arbor and again had no problem requesting and getting a manager’s override. Even better, they had fully restocked!

  13. Update: My trip to NJ was a success (minus the traffic!) Seems like NJ stores don’t carry the AmEx Prepaid / Vanilla Reload Cards due to some state law, but they had plenty of regular Visa $20-$500 in stock! Of course this has been a 3 hour adventure for me and added $45 to my costs (gas/tolls) but at least I can plan a monthly visit out here and still get some Visa gift cards!

  14. No issue at OD in Buffalo area. Bought two more cards on Thurs and didn’t have to show any ID………….
    BTW, is 4K Vanilla a month still what you would call the upper limit?? Dont be a hog…………..

  15. I went to my neighborhood OD store in the suburb of Houston and was informed that the reload cards can only be purchased by cash or debit card. The cashier said something about cc fraud.
    I went to another OD store down the road and get the reload cards without hassle at all.

  16. Atxtravel comment 73. I used Netspend last week to pay estimated quarterly taxes of $4500. Processed as debit to avoid large credit card fee. So far no action adverse consequences. Didn’t use pin, just selected pay as a debit card.

  17. Just made might lates Vanilla reload for my AMEX at OD. Had a sign that said ID required when purchasing gift cards using C.C. or checks. Other than that, everything was normal.

  18. OD in Niles, IL just stopped carrying the AmEx reload cards. I knew it couldn’t last. At least they still have the Visa cards.

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