Vanilla Scare

For some odd reason, Vanilla reload cards have become quite popular (see “One card to rule them all” for a potential reason).  However, recently I’ve received two very similar reports about trouble with these cards.

Two readers have independently reported an issue when trying to use these cards after buying them at Office Depot.  When trying to use the cards, they received a message saying that the card was deactivated. In both cases the cards had been deactivated for suspected fraud.  Each reader called the Vanilla Reload Network number, but were told to contact Office Depot for help.  One reader called 1-800-GODEPOT, and the other went back to the Office Depot store.  In the first case, the reader spent a couple of days with calls back and forth between the Office Depot retail store, the Office Depot corporate loss prevention department, and Vanilla Reload Network before the cards were finally reactivated.  In the second case, the manager of the local Office Depot spent about an hour on the phone on the customer’s behalf and finally got the problem sorted out.  The reader who spent days on the phone, reported the following:

When the issue was finally resolved and I spoke with Office Depot’s Loss Prevention Department, I was informed that OD is aware of the problem for its legitimate customers and is trying to work with Incomm to resolve this problem in some reasonable way (that is, it’s important to prevent fraud, but not at the expense of causing legitimate customers to be so dissatisfied that they vow never to shop at OD again).

Personally, I’ve bought and used many reload cards without any problems, but maybe I’ve been lucky.  The good news from these reports seems to be that even though it is a big hassle, you will get your money eventually.  It’s also good news to hear that Office Depot is trying to fix this issue.

Has this or anything similar happened to you?  Comment below.

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. They ask me for my drivers license each time. One clerk told me that someone ran up $10000 in vanilla purchases on a stolen credit card. Gift card fraud is obviously quite a problem. Sears usually calls to verify large purchases of GCs so this really should not be surprising. Did the readers say how much they were trying to put on the Vanilla cards?

  2. Same as Dan said. I was asked to show DL everytime at one particular OD. The clerk there said OD is aware of many frauds and crooks that buy reload cards for money laundering. But so far I had no problem loading money into AMEX prepaid.

  3. Thanks for the update on the Vanilla cards. I’ve bought about $500 on a weekly basis for the last 10 weeks with no problems. Availability of these cards on the gift card rack is starting to get thin. Last week there were only 3 left. They ask for driver’s license maybe half the time when purchasing. I may purchase some $500 visa gift cards and eat the higher fee for a few weeks while monitoring if others are having issues.

  4. Happened to me also. I bought 4 cards last week at a different OD than normal and then found out they were deactivated. Haven’t had a chance to get it resolved yet.

  5. Never had any problems with my local OD store. They always ask for ID and a managers approval but never any problems after that.

  6. I bought 5 in Sacramento on 8/16. The clerk had to call American Express and her manager for approval. The Amex approval was an automated process for her not talking with someone. The manager said there had been a lot of fraud with these. People making their own credit cards and loading with these. He said they were considering not carrying them anymore. I told him that they should just verify the Amex card was legit like they just did with me and they would be ok. He agreed.

  7. It looks like Chase is noticing what is happening now, it shoots down some customers’ accounts who make a lot of gc purchases in OD.

  8. My last haul with them had a bit of a glitch. I had to make the final “installment” to 3 separate cards so I purchased 5 beans with 3 cards. When the clerk was putting them in a single purchase she submitted the first card with no problem. And then on the second card she accidentally hit the enter button twice. This was not how I wanted it charged to the card she was entering so she could not figure out how to stop the transaction. She call the manager and he could not figure it out either. So, he had to shut off the register and rebooted the system. He took the cards that she rang up and luckily there were enough cards left on the shelf to redo the purchase. He did have to take the other cards and remove them from the floor because he said once they were scanned they could not be re-scanned. Now I just have to bean out my new SP card for $2,000.

  9. I’ve been ok with 12k in the last two months. I’ll be getting katybug a new INK bold or Plus card so we can spread our purchases onto multiple cards and probably increase purchases slightly.

    “pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered”

  10. Haven’t had any problems, but they have been a little thin on the shelves.

    I showed my dad how to do this and he had a thought – to walk into a bank and get a cash advance on the AMEX reloadable. It didn’t work as they don’t do that with AMEX, but they would with VISA. So I’m wondering – if I bought a VISA card and then tried to do a cash advance from a bank teller, that might save me some ATM fees as well as the ability to draw out more than $400 at a time. Anyone tried this?

  11. Had the same problem. Went into store, bought some, OD fraud team deactivated it. Went back to store to get more and that’s when I found out they actually deactivated it. They didn’t even tell me since I didn’t load the cards yet. The figured I would be back. manager was pretty helpful and said that they would try to prevent this from happening again. Took my ID, made a copy and sent it over to fraud team.

  12. Anyone know what happens if they can deactivate after you already loaded it if it will remove from your account?

    Was thinking about purchasing then going straight to car and loading.

  13. I went to the office depot in downtown Chicago last week two seperate times during my lunch break and they were sold out. I don’t know if it is because people are bying them up or they don’t sell them anymore because of fraud. Same deal at the one on Ashland and Wellengton.

  14. Wow! I’ve been out of these reloads for quite a while. Didnt realize it has reached this circumstance. Good to know. Thanks FM. I guess if I come across with any more vanilla reloads, I should not buy too many at once. 1-2 at a time.

  15. A good number of commentators seem to imply that the deactivation is coming from OfficeDepot’s back office analyzing transactions and concluding that a certain pattern of Vanilla Reload purchases indicates fraud and therefore deactivate the activations. I just wanted to make sure that I understood correctly that this is what’s happening, and not some other fraud such as criminals figuring out the reload numbers, putting the cards back on the shelves, and then reloading their own reloadable cards as soon as they determine the Vanilla Reload cards have been sold.

  16. @PH, I do not believe it is possible to use these cards without scratching the code off the back. I always make sure the cards look brand new. I haven’t had any problems with using AMEX cards, but you might want to vary the amount you charge if you use the ink bold/plus card. Don’t charge the same amount every time.

  17. I’d be more worried about NS closing your account and leaving you stuck having to float your balance for a month while they screw around sending you a check.

  18. Just reading these comments makes me think the handwriting is on the wall for these cards from Office Depot. FM indicated yesterday 50K is the limit per year on Ultimate Reward points, those that use multiple cards to exceed that limit are playing with fire. Not worth getting your accounts with Chase suspended.

  19. @Grant: Don’t you know the #1 gift card trick to hide the good gift cards that you want to buy later on the hanger behind a stack of crappy gift cards that nobody wants to buy? It helps if the packaging is a similar color obviously. 😉 Then even when the well runs dry on the GCs for everybody else, you have your own personal stash to keep buying. 🙂

  20. As long as no one is getting ripped off and not getting their money onto the card in the end, this seems like a good thing. All the theft going on with this had the potential to kill the whole thing (and it did in some places), but if they’re taking steps to mitigate loss, hopefully that keeps the deal around!

  21. @gregorygrady ARE YOU THE ONE HIDING MY BP CARDS AT KMART BEHIND WEE WORLD?! Haha… 😉

    Here’s a fun site I haven’t found mentioned on FM…I emailed him to say I’d made a lot of trips previously for a $10 off $100 VISA prepaid…I think last check I’d paid about $80 for $100 (factor in the $6 fee and it’s slow goin’). Going to see if the $20 off $100 works on gas cards etc…they have a “prepaid/gift card” category. I like! http://www.couponnetwork.com/prepaid-cardsgift-cards-yourbucks-catalina-coupons

  22. @gregorygrading, thats very clever, never thought about that. I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to do. 90% of the gift cards there are junk. I guess if they are every out at my store, I will look around behind some of the cards and see if I can outsmart someone else 🙂

  23. Are we clear on who’s deactivating these cards? is it happening at the point of sale, after the sale by someone at Office Depot, AMEX, or is it NetSpend?

    From an Office Depot perspective, this is a crappy customer experience. I would think they would put other controls in place to prevent fraud.

  24. Will, just to be clear, the limit per Ink Bold card is $50K in 5X spend which would net 250K points. I’m not sure whether that was clear or if you thought the limit was 50K points earned.

    Frequent Flyer Collector: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re right. Even though this is a pain in the neck for those that this happens to, it is better than the alternative (which would be for OD to stop selling them altogether).

    Apologies to those in NYC, New Jersey, and other places that no longer sell them. I know how frustrating that must be!

  25. Re:

    IrishTiger says:
    August 23, 2012 at 10:54 am
    Store here outside DC has a stack of them three inches deep. And no trouble yet…fingers crossed!

    My daughter is now in DC, can you give me a hint where “outside DC” is? Thanks!

  26. @Ronald: North of the Beltway – I can check the Annapolis store next time I’m there. FM has a whole post on availability, maybe Delmarva is on there somewhere. 🙂

  27. All Bay Area/San Francisco seem to be out of cards after several months of availibility. Not sure if they are just pulling them off the shelves or just not re-stocking.

  28. For once, I’m glad I don’t live in a major metropolitan area. Plenty of reloads and no purchasing problems here. Just finished inking 10K without a hitch!

  29. [EDITED by Frequent Miler] I could definitely see someone taking a whole stack of cards out of the store, removing the stickers, writing the PINs down, replacing the stickers, putting the cards back in the store, and then waiting for some unsuspecting person to buy the card. All I know is – when I have bought a card or two I try to load it as soon as possible after purchase.

  30. I bought 5 of these cards for $500 back in May on the Ink Bold card. Four of them activated just fine…but not the fifth. Spent hours on the phone with InComm, Vanilla Reload “front desk” customer service, and American Express prepaid folks. Still no resolution. About to copy everything I have, drop it in the mail, and prepare for the worst. So frustrating.

  31. @Toni: You had wrote an OD manager told you the fraud they were fighting involved “People making their own credit cards and loading with these”. That doesn’t make any sense to me, you can’t load an arbitrary credit card number with value using a Vanilla Reload card; only if Vanilla verifies the C/C number you’re trying to reload is a valid number issued by one of their partners will the attempted load transaction do anything. Do you remember anything more about what he claimed?

    @Number1: I’ve only ever bought Vanilla Reload cards in Northern California and the PIN code on the cards I see around here isn’t covered by a sticker, it’s covered with a silver gray scratch off compound. It’s conceivable to me that an organized thief could have the ability to “paint” a new covering over the PIN code after scratching the original covering off gently… seems to me just a heavily colored wax would do the trick. Sure, somebody who was specifically analyzing the covering could probably figure out the difference, but most of us aren’t looking quite that carefully.

  32. I just had a great idea. Office depot should keep these cards behind the counter, kind of like cigarettes and lottery scratchers. That would prevent users from manipulating the cards. Then again, if a store employee was smart/clever enough he would be able to abuse that too (questionable considering the level of intelligence at some of these stores)

  33. The grey compound is actually the top layer on a clear plastic strip. [EDITED by Frequent Miler] I was very surprised at how easy it was to tamper with the cards.

  34. At Office Depot this week there were no Visa or Amex gift cards on the rack that holds all the cards. I was going to leave and saw an employee and asked what’s up with the gift cards? He said they had removed them to the office because of fraudulent activity and would go and get me some if I wanted them. I’m using them to pay contractors for my remodeling. Hope they are all as I am representing them. A card with no value would not inspire confidence. As it is they have been very happy with them…no fees to pay as there would be had I paid them with a credit card.

  35. I spent hours on the phone yesterday with InComm, 1800GODEPOT and even went into the store I bought the Vanilla cards and nobody knows how to reactivate my cards. I have never seen more incompetence and everyone tells me to call someone else. Still out $2500 with 5 deactivated cards. Also I mentioned to the manager that there were no more reload cards available and she said they have them but they are under lock and key. She said you just have to ask for them and show your ID. The fraud was apparently people stealing credit cards and using them to buy reload cards.

  36. @Adrienne B, be patient and persistent! In my experience, it is most helpful to get a representative from Incomm, a representative from Office Depot Loss Prevention Dept, and yourself on the phone at the same time, so they can’t play the “blame game” and say it’s the other company’s fault. Ultimately, it will require Incomm to reactivate the cards or the Office Depot rep to authorize replacement cards at the retail store. Good luck!

  37. @Jim, that’s the mystery. Each blames the other. Sometimes, they claim it is the fault of “American Express” or “Visa.” Best guess–Incomm.

  38. @Number 1 (Post #48): Wow, amazing. Were you a criminal in your past (or current) life? I have some unused gift cards and just attempted your technique and sure enough a flat edge razor blade is all you need to remove the sticker, and then you can stick it right back on there without anybody noticing at all.

    The funny thing is that in the past I have actually considered “swiping” gift cards out of one store and “buying” them at another (same grocery chain) cuz I worry about buying too many all at once from the same store. In the end I decided against it as it felt too much like shop lifting. But yikes, didn’t know how easy it was to get around that grey scratch off nonsense until I read your post. Will teach me to redeem my gift cards immediately after I buy them from now on!!!

  39. No, I am an upstanding member of society {:^) I just found that a number of different gift cards used some type of adhesive sticker to cover their PIN, and it was easier to remove the sticker with a razor blade than to scratch it off. The better ones designed to be tamper-proof use a segmented sticker which splits into several pieces when someone tries to remove it.

    • Number1: I find this info fascinating, but I’m also worried that people may use it to commit fraud. I don’t as a rule sensor blog comments, but if it is OK with you I would edit your comments to make it less obvious how to do this?

  40. That’s OK with me if you want to edit the older posts – but the Vanilla cards are so poorly designed tamper-proof-wise that it will take someone with ill intent about 5 minutes to figure out what I spoke of. I was really shocked the first time I purchased a pack and loaded it onto my AMEX at how little information was required (the PIN). It would be much better to also require a second set of info in addition to the PIN, like the last four digits of the credit card used to buy the pack.

  41. No clue, Titan. I haven’t looked in a while as I really want to find a good ATM. I’ve tried Allpoint, credit unions, banks, and a few 7-11s, and every ATM charges a fee. Do you withdraw at ATMs?

  42. I just experienced this at an OD in northern California. Tried to buy 1k worth of Visa vanilla reloads and they wanted to call Chase. Fortunately the manager was on a conference call so I just told em I’d come back later today (yeah right). Looks like I’m off to Office Max instead…

  43. Adam: OD needing to call your card issuer shouldn’t be a problem – they do that almost every time I buy the reload packs. All they do is call the bank for an added security layer. What FM is talking about here is where OD/InComm deactivates the card after the purchase.

  44. It’s InComm doing the deactivation. It doesn’t make sense that OD would do this as they’ve already made the sale and verified (in their eyes) the buyer.

    What does make sense is that InComm is looking for large purchases of the cards, and likely in areas of reported fraud. Even in areas where there’s not fraud, very few people beyond those like us are going to buy more than 1 or maybe 2 of these at a time.

  45. Just went to an OD in southern california, this store normally is fully stocked with the reloadable vanilla cards for the AMEX prepaid card. Today they didn’t have any of the vanilla reloadable’s. In fact, they claimed to have stopped selling those cards. However, they do still sell the regular Visa prepaid cards.

  46. Jim, they were sold out and only had the white place holders on the shelves. I found it unusual as they normally have a stack of them always available for purchase. When I asked if they were going to get the reloads in stock any time soon their response made it seem that they weren’t going to sell the reloads any more. However, they still had a few AMEX prepaid cards available for purchase. Going to make a run to a different office depot shortly.

    • Sam, The good news is they were not pulled from the shelves. Some of the newbies will wipe out a store. They learn the hard way that anything over 4 or so will trigger a deactivation of their reloads. Unfortunately, the restocking takes a long time.

      If everyone would just settle down and purchase only a few per week this deal will last a long time.

  47. So I got my inlaws in on this deal, they buy 1000 per month. My wife just told me theres got deactivated and they spen two weeks trying to get their money back. They live in Dallas Tx

  48. @jim I have not spoken with them directly yet

    2x 500 with ink bold

    I can report back later when I know more

    As a side note, someone mentioned earlier that they may target big cities. I buy 2 x 500 most times. I just recently (3 weeks) upped it to 2500 or 5 x 500 , I have done this twice. I have never had a problem but I also don’t use chase cards. My plan is to buy 1 500 every so offen to make spend only. I have always thought this is only valuable to make spends. I have been more aggressive as of late but I believe a little restraint is in order. As a general rule do not spend more than you are comfortable loosing.

  49. Went to another OD in so cal, this time there weren’t event any vanilla reload place holders on the shelf. They had the AMEX cards in stock but not the vanilla reload cards. Going to visit another OD tomorrow. If it’s not in stock i am just going to get a Visa prepaid card.

  50. My faithful OD in South Seattle has dried up. No bean cards available. I know the downtown OD does not have them so that left me the University District. Went there and they had a good stack. Needless to say I did a stash on 3/4s of them and purchased 2. My wife thinks I am crazy, do you blame me?

  51. I did a few transfers before-no problem, however, today I am out of $500, courtesy of Vanilla card.
    They had some tech problems online today, so I called their line and spoke with “Kim”. She advised me to try again since their IT department was working on the issue. I did a couple hours later and got a message that the card was redeemed already. I thought it was another glitch, and called the Customer Service. They said it was indeed redeemed and provided me with some numbers. My Bluebird doesn`t have that transfer. Moreover, there was no confirmation on successful reload from and I got a message that the transfer didn`t go through. A rep said to call Bluebird. I did. No help there either. She just used automated system to load, and of course, it gave a message that the card has been used already.
    I`ve spent about four hours of my Christmas Eve (it`s a lot of money, for God`s sake!), and still no money. Bluebird supervisor was trying to resolve the issue, but gave me an answer that I was over the limit..I replied that money went to their way apparently.
    In any event, I believe it is Vanilla who has my $500. The issue hasn`t been resolved as of right now. I`ve called Vanilla several times already, and no luck to be transferred to a supervisor from Vanilla (still on hold-35 minutes and counting!). I am tired of being brushed off with pointing fingers and saying once the card is redeemed, there is nothing they can do!!

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