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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About Greg The Frequent Miler

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. I still don’t understand how people steal them. Presumably they are not just walking out of the store wih them. But they must be doing it in a way with a credit card, since they are still allowing them with debit cards.

    • Askia: Yes credit cards are involved. I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to give anyone ideas!

      JohnnieD: Thanks!

      mike: Interesting thought about it being against the merchant agreement… Anyone want to give that argument a try?

  2. In the Buffalo area one store had none and I was told they had a bad batch of vanilla cards and had to return them. New ones were being sent. Another store had plenty of vanilla cards and had no issue whatsoever buying 3k worth………

  3. I laugh at this stuff all they have to do is create an additional step to purchase these at POS. Id required on all purchases and they keep a log book of that ID was checked and matches credit card. Nobody ever does this, Like when at Michaels bought almost 2K I had my ID out and they did not even want it. LOL… Sometimes they create there own problems.

    Now in my own opinion I think its against their credit card merchant agreement, anything in the store must be allowed to be charged unless it against the state law.

  4. One of the deal sites describes how a Visa gift card had been compromised. Always make sure the numbers are readable and the pin hasn’t been scratched off.

  5. I bought a Vanilla card this past Friday. No problem at OD. Cashier just needed to see my Driver’s license for identity.

  6. As long as you buy the reloadable card and transfer the funds to your Amex card right away there should be no problem. Interesting to see further developments.

  7. I’ve bought AmEx and Vanilla cards at three Office Depots in the area with no issue. One store asked me for ID.

    Generally the cashiers I’ve interacted with don’t know anything about the cards. The first time I bought the Vanilla Reload cards, I asked the cashier if I could reload my AmEx (which I had pulled out so he could see). He got really confused and thought I was asking if I could pay with the AmEx prepaid.

  8. I have bought Vanillas 3-4 times at the same OD. The first time I bought they told me they had been hit by someone buying with a stolen CC the day before, so they needed me to show ID and waive to their security camera, but I was able to buy with my IB. Each time after I’ve just done the same thing.

  9. DC area: the Office Depot 3 blocks from my house has been sold out of the Vanilla reloads for about a week now. Other Office Depots, in the MD and VA suburbs, have them in stock and I’ve had no problem buying them with a credit card – just have had to show ID.

    Like KK’s experience, I’ve had a couple of cashiers ask me how the AMEX Prepaid program works.

  10. I don’t get it either how stealing this can be different from any other gift cards available in the store but, anyway, I believe sometimes the stores just create problems/rules themselves. I had an instance that they had to call in mastercard (Ink bold)to notify my purchase,even though the transaction had gone through and the receipt was printed, as they said it was their new corporate policy on these cards but I suspect it was because the same person happen to see me 3 times within a week buy these cards. The poruchase went thThe next day I went to another OD and purchased 3 reloadable cards and no questions were asked..not even my id checked. It would be a real shame if this ends…

  11. I bought couple of vanilla visa prepaid cards yesterday and first time, I have been ask to show my ID plus cashiers needed managers override. This is in South Jersey, a philly suburbs.

  12. A few things:
    1) It is against Visa/MasterCard (and likely other credit card) merchant agreements for merchants to ask for ID.
    2) It is also against Visa MasterCard merchant agreements for merchants to deny payment for items via credit card if the same item can be purchased with cash.
    3) You can report these merchant violations to MasterCard at http://www.mastercard.us/support/merchant-violations.html
    4) The reason credit card companies have these requirements is because they want people to pay for as many things as possible via credit card. More credit card payments = more income from merchants that pay processing fees.
    5) Credit card companies are supposed to cover any fraudulent transactions. I’m not clear on exactly how the fraudsters are following through with their scheme, but in theory, the credit card companies should eat any cost involved, and the merchants should never be financially responsible in a way that would cause them to ban credit card transactions.

  13. I live in Jersey, so I usually drive to New York, Nanuet to purchase reload cards. Lately, been busy no time. But previous experience has been great. Only asked for ID, thats it. However the last time I was there (3 weeks ago), they were out. 🙁

    I’ve got a friend in CA, he pointed to me that these vanilla reload cards are also available at Safeway!. So at least for chase freedom card holders could get their $1500 spend.

  14. Jon…try forcing a cashier/store to allow you to purchase your item if they ask for ID and you refuse……..you will have to fight to do this

    They can easily tell you they are doing it to protect the card-holders ID and that it is their store policy

  15. try arguing with a minimum wage cashier that it is the merchants policy to not ask for ID or that they must except a credit card for a purchase when their little computer screen says debit or credit…. good luck…

  16. Has anyone tried using Netspend or Paypower cards? They can be reloaded with Vanilla or ReLoadit packs, and ReLoadit is sold in many grocery and drug stores.

    The best feature is for a few $ you can supposedly do a cash advance transaction at your bank and clear out the whole card directly into your bank account.

    • atxtravel: I’ve been experimenting with the Netspend card and hope to publish results soon. Both cards charge fees that Amex does not, but there are some huge potential benefits here, as you point out. Do you know if reloadit cards can be bought with a credit card anywhere? If so, that would be a great alternative.

  17. trinity and jp – I agree that it isn’t an easy fight with a cashier that’s low on the totem pole. Your best bet would be to escalate to a manager, and talk to them politely, explaining that their store policy cannot override their merchant agreement. If that doesn’t help, file a complaint with MasterCard via the link in my post above. The more complaints filed, the quicker MasterCard will notify the stores to stop violating the merchant agreements. Once that happens, life should be back to normal as far as being able to purchase gift cards with credit cards.

  18. FM: I’m about to find out, will go to a few Walgreens / CVS stores in the next day or two, and some grocery stores, to see what they have.

    I ordered my Netspend card as well. They don’t have a monthly fee, only $2 per PIN transaction or $2.50 for over the counter cash withdrawal. If you use those to clear out a few grand at a time, the effective cost per point/mile is around 0.8 cents. I also need to call my bank to see what the fees are on their end.

  19. Doubt they will stop as they are the lone major retailer selling this product. They have exclusivity on the item and prob. receiving a nice sum for it. This also helps the stores overall gross sales for those shareholders out there.

    I love those complaint forms wish I know about this before

  20. As someone who works in a business that always asks for IDs, the merchant agreement can be bybassed easily in that regard. The agreement is to prevent companies from asking for IDs for c.c. purchases but not for cash or other methods, thus making it more inconvenient to use a c.c. However, a business can ask for ID if it’s a requirement to make a purchase no matter what method of payment the customer uses. Examples: renting a car or hotel room. If the store requires all customers to show IDs when making a purchase, the merchant agreement allows this.

  21. Adding to my last post, the Amex prepaid website says the card purchaser must be at least 18 years old. The stores can use the ID excuse because they are “verifying” your age, whether that’s their real intention or not.

  22. With so many people, I am sure Big ol C will drop the bomb soon that OD is no longer a fiver. You were brilliant in finding this but every stupid blogger is now copying you.

  23. “Jon: One risk with that approach is if OD stops selling the prepaid cards and reload packs altogether”
    I don’t believe that is a true risk. What is happening here is a local store’s misunderstanding of the fact that credit card companies will ultimately cover all credit card fraud cases. If/when this is escalated up the chain, Corporate would eventually squash the whole issue of asking for IDs, banning credit card usage, etc. These stores make a LOT of money off of gift card sales, and in theory they will not lose a dime to fraud, if the fraud happened with a credit card. They likely also have insurance policies that would cover any other losses. Again, I have a strong suspicion these policies are made at the local store level by a manager that doesn’t understand the whole picture.

    “However, a business can ask for ID if it’s a requirement to make a purchase no matter what method of payment the customer uses.”
    Tony: You’re correct. However in this case, I don’t believe these stores have a requirement to ask for ID when paying with cash. If that is the case, they cannot ask for ID when paying with credit card.

  24. Thieves aren’t the only ones who steal points. Spoon feeding every little angle to the masses will do far more damage. Think about the impact of your comments before posting them. There are ways to arbitrage this, but leave that reward for those willing to think out of the box.

  25. I’ve tried buying netSpend reload packs at 3 different vendors using a cc. No go. I don’t think netSpend is going to play out like the Vanilla Reload Network.

  26. My local store has them in stock all the time and has no issues with credit card payments. Time to run out and buy more…

  27. I bought cards in CT this weekend, and I was also told about the fraud issue. Initially, they seemed reluctant to sell the cards to me because I have an out of state ID, but in the end, they processed the purchase without a problem.

  28. If you keep reporting about it how do you expect it to last?

    btw, bought one card at OD in south Florida with cc in the past week.

  29. I wish those that feel the need to criticize the FM for these posts would please stop. If you are here, and interested in this (or any other) point earning opportunities, it puts you in one of two categories:

    1) You learned about the strategy here but regardless want it silenced quickly so you can make the most of it yourself.


    2) You discovered the trick on your own and are bitter that other have as well, including one very industrious blogger how enjoys sharing his finds with his readership.

    Either way, your position is tenuous and unsympathetic. Its not as if these ideas were stolen from you – you hold no claim on them.
    So please, please, enjoy the bounty and allow us to as well.

  30. Was told by a clerk how the gift card theft scheme works…crazy. It usually involves teens and multiple people, and is very effective. No way I’ll spill the beans, but needless to say the store is taking a huge risk selling giftcards. If i had a store, I’d keep the gift cards locked up behind the counter and ask for id every time. To make things even worse, the stores find out when they get burned every time!

  31. Went to OD today, attempted to purchase 2 vanilla reload cards for $500 each. When checking out, cashier had to call manager to get approval. Manager takes my ID and IB card and then proceeds to take them away. I see him @ the photo copy area starting to use a phone and I ask him what he is doing. Says he’s calling to verify I am who I am with credit card company, they have to do it for all customers who buy over $200 in gift cards due to stolen credit card fraud, said it was corp policy. I considered not letting him call it in, but decided to let it go. At the register, I quietly (to get an honest answer) asked the cashier if this is how they handle all gift card purchases and she told me yes. In the past month I have bought $2500 worth of vanilla cards from this very store, over two different days, and neither time was there any verification process. When expressing to the manager about how it’s a terrible decision to take a customers credit card and ID and walk away and not tell them what they are doing, etc… he became very defensive. I am assuming that OD management is somehow on the hook for any stolen credit card activity. Left w/two cards for $500 each. Never mentioned that I couldn’t buy w/a credit card, nor was there a sign posted.

    OD was in Chicago.

  32. I bought a $500 Visa gift in a supermarket in NJ in order to bump up my Chase freedom grocery spend and was asked for id – I see no issue with extra security – less fraud

  33. There was a sign at the OD I bought one from today that was new and said “Store policy: You may no longer buy gift cards with Office Depot gift cards or Office Depot Cash. Only with cash, debit or credit cards.”

    I bought for $500 and wasn’t even asked for ID.

  34. @FrequentMiler post 19: REloadit can be purchased at Food Lion on a credit card. An override is necessary, and not every override works. You need a higher level override from a big manager. The back does not say cash only. The front, well…

  35. Netspend and Reloadit wont work long term. These companies prey on broke people and people unable to have a real checking accounts. Their Risk Mgtment teams will freeze your funds and shut you down quickly. Their avg transaction is $32. Imagine what your hi vol / hi $amt purchase will look like on their screens.

  36. My local OD only has the prepaid card not the vanilla card (sold out). Would it be worth it to but the temporary AMEX prepaid card and load $500 in it? I know it cost $4.95 vs $3.95 for the vanilla ($1 more)but still worth it right? am I missing something? Thanks

  37. My local OD only has the prepaid card not the vanilla card (sold out). Would it be worth it to buy the temporary AMEX prepaid card and load $500 in it? I know it cost $4.95 vs $3.95 for the vanilla ($1 more)but still worth it right? am I missing something? Thanks

  38. Bought 4 vanilla reloads at OD in SLC tonight with a credit card. Cashier showed no concern and didn’t seek ID. Plenty of cards on the rack. My wife bought two late last week at another OD – no issues, plenty of stock.

  39. BE.RGHT.BACK: if you read netspend terms and conditions, they allow up to $15k on the card at one time, and transactions upwards of $5k at once, I think. Doesn’t look like they’d be concerned about a $2-3k cashout.

  40. My netspend account was closed today. The customer service can only tell me it was a corporation decision that I am no longer eligible for their service. I had the card for less than three weeks and loaded 4×500 vanilla cards to it.

  41. Sounds like someone is worried about his netspend secret getting out. No sooner did the discussion get interesting that the commenter “netspend-sucks” emerge to claim that his account was just shut down today. What a coincidence! Call me skeptical.

  42. Netspend is used by people w/o a lot of capital not by people who can afford to runs 10,000 a month in charges. They are sharks in the water. You wont get over on them. Dont heed the warnings at your own risk.

  43. @Mike in Chicago: Was this at the store near Ashland and Diversey? I went in a few weeks ago to buy a couple cards and the clerk, without explanation, picked up the phone and called Chase, and then handed me the phone. The chase rep was like: “why are you calling?” and I’m like “I don’t know this is weird” and then she and the clerk argued for awhile and then she hung up. Then the clerk told me to try a different register.

    I did and the cards wouldn’t scan so I cut my losses and left. It feels weird being treated like a criminal, but the people working there didn’t care that I could explain exactly WHY I was purchasing the card… But what do you expect?

  44. I have also heard reputable cases of net spend cards getting shut down. Does anyone know what happens to the funds that are on the card at the time it gets shut down. Do they mail you a check? If so, how long does it take?

  45. @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?

  46. 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).

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

  48. 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.

  49. 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 =/

  50. 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!

  51. 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.

  52. 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

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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!

  57. 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!

  58. 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…………..

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. 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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