MyVanilla grabs my money and won’t let go

Wow.  That didn’t take long.  In September I reported that my Mio card was being converted to a MyVanilla card and I was afraid that the changeover would lead to my account getting shut down (see “Bye bye Mio“).  The Mio and MyVanilla debit cards were already nearly identical.  Both could be loaded with Vanilla Reload cards.  Both had similar transaction fees.  Both could be used as true debit cards.  What made my Mio card special, though, was that my account was never shut down.  Ever since they added fees for every transaction, I stopped using the card for day to day spend and, instead, used it exclusively as a way to liquidate Vanilla Reload cards.  With most prepaid cards, that’s a sure way to get shut down, but my Mio kept chugging along…  until it was converted to MyVanilla.

On Monday, I tried loading a Vanilla Reload card to my Mio card, but received an error.  My first thought was that my Mio account might be in limbo during the switchover to MyVanilla.  I looked at the MyVanilla website and saw a new banner that read as follows:

Welcome Mio Money Cardholders, your Mio Money Card will be upgraded to a MyVanilla Prepaid MasterCard. Set up your Online Account now to check your balance, see transactions, and more.

That seemed to confirm my suspicion that my Mio card was in limbo during the switchover.  I thought that, maybe, if I setup my MyVanilla account I would be good to go.  So, I tried, but the website told me that something was wrong and that I should call.  So, I did.

The phone number on the back of my Mio card redirected me to MyVanilla customer support.  Apparently, the switchover already occurred.  A customer service representative told me that my account was frozen pending review.  In order to complete the review and unfreeze my account, I was told that I would have to fax or email the following:

  • ID
  • Social security card
  • Proof of address
  • Load receipts

No thanks!  I didn’t mind having my account closed altogether, so I asked the rep to just close my account and send me a check for the balance.  That’s where things got really bad…

The rep told me that as long as my account was frozen, they couldn’t cancel my account to release my funds.  What!?  I had never heard of anything like that before.  Isn’t there a law against them holding my funds hostage like that?  After complaining a bit (in a nice way), but getting nowhere, I asked the rep to tell me again what I would need to send them to complete the review.  After she listed the items again, the ensuing conversation went something like this:

Me: What are load receipts?

Rep: How did you load money onto the card?

Me: I bought Vanilla Reload cards and used them to load money.

Rep: Then you’ll need to send us the receipts showing the purchase of the Vanilla Reload cards as well as scans of the front and back of the reload cards.

Me: But… after successfully loading money to my card, I always toss out the receipts.

Rep: You can go to the store where you bought them and request copies of the receipts.

Me: But…  I use Vanilla Reload cards to load other cards besides the Mio card, and I buy cards from lots of different stores.  I would have no way to know which particular stores or receipts or reload cards were used to reload my Mio card.

Rep: I’m sorry sir, but that’s the only way for us to release your funds.

Me: You can’t hold my funds without giving me a way to get my money back!

Rep: You do have a way.  Just send in the info requested including the load receipts.

I demanded to speak with her supervisor.  Her supervisor told me the exact same story.  I then demanded to speak with the supervisor’s manager.  He also told me the same story.  He did add one additional idea, though.  He suggested that I send in everything I could and also attach a document explaining why I couldn’t produce the load receipts.

Trying to comply

I scanned in everything I could and wrote a letter as the manager suggested.  I attached all of it to an email and sent the bundle to the email address they gave me (premium_fax@incomm.com).  The manager also told me to call the next day to check to make sure that the documents were received.  I gave them an extra day and called on Wednesday instead of Tuesday.  After waiting on hold for an eternity I was told that they hadn’t received the email.  Please re-send it.  So, I re-sent it.

Looking for other solutions

My next step was to search FlyerTalk to see if others had experienced the same problem.  In the MyVanilla forum, I did find a couple of similar incidents.  Through a recommendation from another FlyerTalk member, one person reported that their account was re-opened the day after they submitted a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  I figured that it couldn’t hurt, so I submitted my own complaint on Wednesday afternoon.  There didn’t seem to be a category for prepaid cards, so I listed my account as a savings account.  Under “company name,” I listed Bancorp Bank since they issue the card (but maybe I should have listed InComm?  I don’t know).  In the text of the complaint I described the situation and the fact that I wasn’t being offered a reasonable way to access my funds.

Waiting for resolution

As of Thursday morning, I haven’t heard back from the CFPB other than an automated confirmation email.  I called MyVanilla to check whether they had received my second email.  After a long wait on hold, they surprised me by telling me that yes they had received it.  Then they went on to tell me that they had everything they needed from me except for load receipts.  As soon as I send those, they can process the review.  Sigh.

At this point, I don’t know what the final solution will be.  I’m sure I’ll get my money back eventually but I don’t know when or how.  I’ll publish again once I learn more.

Use caution

I decided to publish the details of my experience as a cautionary tale for others. It used to be the case that a prepaid card shut-down was not a big deal if you had enough funds to float the balance for a while.  You would simply call and demand your money back, and they would send a check typically in 2 to 6 weeks.  I know that some people have had trouble getting that promised check, but at least it was promised and so with a little perseverance I think it has always been possible to get your money back (often minus a fee for sending a paper check).  This situation is different, though.  The MyVanilla organization (InComm) is now saying that, in this situation, you cannot have your funds back unless you comply with their demands.  If, like me, you have no practical way to meet the demands, then your money is seemingly out of reach forever. 

I’m sure that this will get resolved eventually, but for now this is not a situation I would wish for anyone to get stuck in.  If you use MyVanilla cards, be careful!

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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. […] Frequent Miler recently had something very similar happen to him and has included a list of appropriate government and non-government agencies you can contact if the company you’re doing business with isn’t timely about releasing your funds. If need be, use this as a last resort. A company does of course reserve the right to decide who they do business with, but that doesn’t entitle them to steal. […]

  2. […] Frequent Miler recently had something very similar happen to him and has included a list of appropriate government and non-government agencies you can contact if the company you’re doing business with isn’t timely about releasing your funds. If need be, use this as a last resort. A company does of course reserve the right to decide who they do business with, but that doesn’t entitle them to steal. […]

Comments

  1. This is a sucky situation. I had a similar experience with my rushcard over the summer. They refused to give me my money back until I sent in a lot of info…cancelling account wouldn’t work. Talking to supervisors wouldn’t work.

    Eventually I did send in the paperwork they asked for. The good news was that I was again able to use the card, and having passed their high hurdles, I never had any problems again

  2. Hey Greg, this is illegal BS. Incomm/Bancorp, as well as Blackhawk/Metabank, know it. They do it nonetheless because they get away with it. File a complaint against Bancorp with the FDIC. After I and several others I know of did so, refund checks were cut and mailed promptly (mine was mailed by overnight mail one or two business days — don’t remember which — after I filed a complaint). In a perfect world, the FDIC would crack down on these “banks” and their service providers. MS is far from a perfect world.

  3. Took 4 months for me to get $$ back from two shutdowns for me. These guys are terrible.

    But that’s part of the game. No risk, no reward.

  4. If this goes on a month or so without getting your money back and the amount is below the small claims minimum in your state I suggest you file a small claim. In addition if there is an unfair and deceptive practices statute in your state I would cite that an ask for punative damanage. I think that will expedite repayment once it gets to an attorney. Then agree to settle for what you are owed and the small claims filing fee. Don’t bother with the punative damages if you make such a claim as your only goal with this approach is to get to someone reasonable that is not bound by the company rules.

  5. I have a suggestion…don’t use VRs again except for BB. I stopped and it’s been so much easier. I manufacture about $100k a month using nothing but GCs. The extra $1 in fee is more than made up for by much heavier volume that I can sustain without risk of a shutdown.

      • I buy about $6-8k worth of gift cards at a time, and cash out $7k into MOs at a time in my local grocery store. Everything is within 10min drive or on my way to/from work/gym. I’ll cash out one batch and buy the next in one trip and unpack them while watching movies/tv.

        • Thanks rick b, for sharing what you know. I really appreciate it. But isn’t the fee on those Visa or MC $500 gift cards $4.95 or more? Could you please share how you bring that down to $1? Really appreciate this as your advice will help me achieve miles for an important life event – marriage and the honeymoon. If you prefer to PM me, let me know and I’d be glad to share my email address. Thanks again!

        • I never said my fees are $1, I said it’s an EXTRA $1 over the $3.95 that VR costs. I’m doing it with a 5x card so fees don’t matter as much and made up for with heavy volume.

        • Thanks for clarifying. Appreciate the advice with grateful thanks. May I please ask which 5x store allows purchase of Visa/MC GCs with CC?

  6. “My next step was to search FlyerTalk to see if others had experienced”
    So it seems that you reach to Flyertalk when you’re out of creative ideas. Fine!

    So, generally speaking and not related to this case:
    Why then are you a pest to them by getting a lot of info from there and publishing it on your blog when it would be best for everyone to keep it low without undue exposure?

    • @rick b: I completely agree – the risk associated with my vanilla debit is just not worth the couple of dollars you end up saving. Too much headache for me. So, I have changed to gift cards for my manufactured spend. Only problem with gift cards is that some of the new my vanilla gift cards do not come with a pin.

    • Min92, Flyertalk is a great resource that I use occasionally to get additional background info for my posts, for meetups, and for travel research. Its extremely rare for me to find an idea for a blog post in FlyerTalk partly because I rarely read FlyerTalk except for the above stated purposes. Most ideas come from reader suggestions (which may or may not have originated in Flyertalk) and my own experiments. I don’t agree with your assessment that I am “a pest to them”, but of course you’re entitled to your opinion about that.

  7. You won’t like this comment but I don’t feel real sorry for you as you gamed the system and it bit you (a little). It’s a chance you take with stuff like this. Think of the benefit you gained. If you had been using the service the way it was intended I doubt they would freeze your account and if they did it would be easy for them to see the transaction data.
    I would be a little worried that this information from such companies could get back to the IRS or Treasury, etc. under money laundering or taxable income worries.

    • DaninSTL, I don’t mind your comment! I agree with you and certainly didn’t mean to suggest that people should feel sorry for me. As I said in the post, I fully expect to get my money back. The purpose of this post was to highlight a real danger in manufacturing spend.

    • @DaninSTL Clearly you dont know what money laundering is or how these activities affect taxable income. There is nothing illegal about this sort of transfer of money.

    • They can see all the transaction data already.

      Incomm has been adding this step as part of it controls in the past month. It can be triggered by very little activity and is not just a consequence of manufactured spending for points. Incomm makes money on the load ($3.95/$500) and unload fees. they don’t lose. This isn’t abuse of their product.
      Their concern is government oversight. When asked they need to be able to prove that they are not facilitating anything the government doesn’t like.

      The big issue that FM faces and many others in the same boat is that Incomm is not really ready for their own rules. Their front line people have fixed and unbending rules to follow (which is what FM has been hit by) and they’re prohibited from contacting the compliance group for waivers. In addition their compliance group is either overwhelmed or incompetent as their turn around time is really long and far exceeds their target of 3-5 business days.

  8. @DaninSTL

    It is a risk you take with these types of techniques; I am very willing to accept them as it is a lucrative hobby. I am little unclear why you seem to think this is somehow “illegal.”

  9. FM, All this brings up such memories. I feel your pain you want to call back and push to allow you to access your acct for that 24-48 hr window that they allow so you can remove your funds from the acct. Shockingly Im surprised you lasted so long. This happened to a bunch of us back in Mar-Apr-May. Good luck as I know they play games and intentionally hold your money.

    • But this is a change. They’re not doing that anymore.

      The potentially positive upside is that once checked you should be free to go about your business, rather than having your account closed as before.

  10. I also was shutdown. After waiting for the month for the promised check, I filed a complaint with BBB. Incomm promptly sent me a check within a week from the complaint.

  11. Terrifying. For this reason I always deposit VR’s onto BB only when I am ready to use them instantaneously. I suspect the cycle of deposit followed immediately by bill pay to a credit card will get me shut down fairly soon (I’m in my third month) but at least when I’m shut down I won’t have more than a dollar or two in. Was the thought that keeping a balance in the account would make them less likely to shut you down? (Not at all being snarky – just genuinely curious how other people are balancing risk with these various pseudo bank accts.)

  12. This is in fact legal. With new changes to the Anti Money Laundering laws, banks are now held responsible if they fail to research possible money laudering or fraud cases.

    Under the Bank Secrecy Act Sec. 103.125, Each money services business shall develop, implement, and maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. An effective anti-money laundering program is one that is reasonably designed to prevent the money services business from being used to facilitate money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities.

    Most people don’t realize that companies that provide these types of money services can be fined heavily by the FTC. If you research companies like MoneyGram, you’ll see that they were fined $100 million for failing to protect consumers and not researching obvious money laundering.

  13. Your state attorney general’s office and your local DA has ZERO interest in your money card shuffling problems. Same with the BBB, and most anyone else. And all questions of “legal” and “illegal” are moot.

    Your best recourse is to open a case in small claims court and pay to have an officer of the card company served with papers. That will get their attention. You probably won’t have to go to court, but given your fastidious attention to detail and the reasonableness of your claim, I’m pretty sure a judge would say “just give him back his money.” In small claims, you can’t sue for “your time” or “your pain and suffering” etc. Just actual damages.

    I don’t know what state you live in, but each state has different maximum filing limits. How much money are we talking about?

  14. Find the terms and conditions you agreed to and file a small claims lawsuit for 25.00. I doubt they want to send someone to show up to court, they will send you your money.

  15. Incomm is an absolutely deplorable company. I’ve had a similar experience, where they simply refused to refund my money, even after fulfilling all of their requirements.

  16. FM, File at Small claim Court(less than $5000) is the most efficient way to solve your money issue if Incomm won’t give your money back. Go for the fight.

  17. “…they couldn’t cancel my account to release my funds. What!? I had never heard of anything like that before.”

    FM: What you’ve experienced with MyVanilla is the signature “PayPal Scam”. They’ve invented it in the late 1990’s, and still practice it at opportune moments. It’s really sad that MyVanilla now wants to pursue the same route.

  18. Some encouraging news over at FT on this. A bunch of shutdowns have now been released, but early reports show that those releases can be flighty with at least 1 card getting re-shutdown the same day after a cash advance.

    I’m not one of them. I’m still waiting.

  19. SJCRussell is the voice of reason here. Everybody just calm down and understand these prepaid companies and banks etc are choking under anti-money laundering regulations – if it wasn’t for those regulations they would happily let us chug along. I hope all you Obama and Romney voters who think your freedoms are being trampled on because you can’t freely and legally do MS are happy – you got what you asked for with these get tough on terror measures. Just remember, there were a few voices that tried to warn you.

    FM, throwing all your receipts away? What on earth were you thinking?

    @Jay you say what happened to FM is terrifying?
    Terrifying? Good god man get a grip. If anything in this game terrifies you then you are in way over your head. This should be nothing more than a hobby and if you are risking your financial well being then find a less risky hobby.

  20. Two words, FM:

    FDIC them.

    (www.fdic.com – the complaints form section)

    Ok so like others have said, welcome to the club. I have been shut down by everything Bancorp has and do not trust them as far as I could throw them. Once I was shunned for being shut by things. Now it’s happening to everybody, even you. The fact is if you want your money back you have to fight. They are the fraudsters and scammers, not you/us. Sue the bastids if you have to. They will settle out of court.

    In every instance I can THINK of relating to what we do, the MINUTE one sues or files a complaint, BAM, suddenly funds appear. Funny, innit? Just like that. Don’t wanna do that? Well, then don’t play these games! Plain and simple.

  21. Bancorp, or any issuing bank of these types of cards, has nothing to do with the shutdown. It’s the action solely of the marketing company like Incomm, or Netspend. I even called Bancorp once and they pretty much told me they don’t get involved in account dealings. They probably only act as a backing bank under contract with the card provider.

    • Incomm is under the umbrella of Bancorp and when you FDIC one of these prepaids (account now, Achieve, netspend and MVD/MIO) it is Bancorp who responds… and you get your money right back too.

  22. One possible lesson to take away is in the future, when you buy VRs, always save the receipts. It’s also probably good to save all your old VRs. I totally agree with Mike (the last part of his comment). In general, I don’t blame Bancorp or the agent on the phone. It’s OK that they’re trying to combat money laundering or other illegal activities. The more secure the system they have, the less they’ll be suspecting of us and the less they’ll shut people down.

  23. FM- Sorry to hear of your shut down.
    Could you please share on your blog the amount of money
    they have of yours.
    Also,how were you draining the debit cards once they were loaded? CA? MO?

  24. I’ve gone through hundreds of VR cards since I first started buying them about 18 months ago. Keeping track of them would be almost impossible.

    I have a couple MVDs in play and the money on them came from VRs whose receipts and cards I already threw away. Good lesson to keep those VRs/receipts handy for the future …

    • Sending in all that data to Bancorp/Incomm aint gonna do nothing special. That’s a smoke screen, scare tactic and means to make you jump through hoops and give up more data about yourself than you really ought to. They have you by the bawlzaque unless you fight back like zee lion!

      As I said–and I’ll say it again:

      FDIC them!

      Not that the FDIC doesn’t have its head up its arse sometimes too, but the fact is, the moment you do, good ole scammy Bancorp/Incomm will be needing to send your funds forthright.

      That said, it is paramount that people doing MS stay very organized and detailed. Do not misplace GCs or VRs and keep receipts! I have bins and boxes for older ones, but the ones in play–for the entire month, with cut out dates I have for my own accounting needs–are relatively easy to find and present if and when needed.

      THIS IS THE KIND OF STUFF I WANTED TO SPEAK ABOUT AT THE DC DO last April but despite my continued efforts to talk there–for no compensation whatsoever, mind you, I was not allowed to because apparently I aint part of some “club.”

      Well, FM, having met you in person and figuring you are a half decent bloke, I think you should take this to your leaders: If that club really wants to do a service to those who financially support it, they oughta wake up and smell the coffee!

      I have been doing MS for 14 years and have seen so much I have forgotten most of it! I’ve been shut down from many things before some here even knew they existed. I’ve invented new methods and workarounds too and I’m still kickin with standard and alternative methods that do allow me to persist in this game with no financial losses and only gains. I hate comin’ off as though I’m tootin’ my own horn or anything but I know WTH I’m talking about and so when I see this kind of blog post or read all these replies it kinda sickens me. Some people out there seem to just not want to learn. No one thinks for themselves. And people love to just follow what someone else tells them to do ONLY and never go out and do the hard work themselves, and then they get all upset when it falls apart on em.

      Ya’ll do what you think is right, but them’s me thoughts. I hope nobody loses nuthin to MVD/Bacorp/Inscamm.

      • Good advice, marathon man. If you give in and send them more personal info, it will only prolong the scam. That’s what folks with the “PayPal Scam” experience reported.

  25. Has anyone has a similar experience with the Vanilla Gift Cards from Office Depot? I’ve had a gift card that was “not activated correctly.” InComm is demanding to see the original receipt and package in order to remedy the problem. For similar reasons, obtaining the exact receipt is impossible

    • I keep track of all receipts i can on ms runs so people should too. FDIC incomm to get results anyway.
      .
      They do this to try and scoff your money. Green dot is even worse. If need be, sue them

  26. This makes me feel a little better about my bulging “empty gift cards file”. It’s a bit of a mess, but in a pinch I could *probably* find old receipts and empty gift cards. In future I think I’ll keep it a little more organized. Not that it isn’t ridiculous what this company is doing, but it can’t hurt to be prepared.

  27. Certified letter demanding the funds be returned works.

    I had a zombie MVD (had been frozen, then released, so I re-loaded about $9k) that was re-frozen. I gave them 15 minutes and one phone call- gave them the choice to mail me a check or allow me to cash out. They said they preferred to mail a check.

    I gave them exactly thirty days, then mailed a certified letter with notes from the telephone call, and a deadline of two weeks to deliver a check, or I would contact the FDIC, CFPB, and the AG.

    Check arrived the following week.

  28. FM…don’t you ever get tired of all the hassles dealing with manufactured spending? It really appears the inconvenience of chasing down points and all the follow up you appear to go through just isn’t worth it. Granted it leads to fascinating commentary on your blog…but I have to believe at some point you just have to say enough is enough…

    • FM chose to be a blogger, and is doing am awesome job at it. As long as you and others enjoy reading about manufactured spending, it’s a reasonable judgment call for him to provide more reading material.

    • Remember- what’s a hobby to most of us. FM has managed to turn in to a full time job.

      Don’t you wish you actually did something you loved a full time?

  29. I see a lot people here telling you to complain to the states AG office, consumer helplines, etc. The bottom line is, once a local ON YOUR SIDE tv station reporter gets a hold of this, it will be blasted all over the news, and you the rest is history. See if you can quietly resolve this w/o cracking any vases in the shop.

  30. gl. and keep us updated on this one. i started off saving everything, but it became unmangeable. i have 2 mvd’s in play- i think i’m going to drop off the radar til i see how this plays out. too many other ms options to deal with this stuff. as long as gc->mo is working, it’s low stress than dealing with the Gdot’s and incomms…

    • @ aby: This is why i have mostly been touting the thinking that it is not necessarily a great idea to let CVS scan you over $1k VR. Who gets the data? They say the govt. I say Bancorp/Incomm. And those two are worse. The govt would just wanna verify that you are just making a transaction that is not laundering or against any law or tax issue. And it’s not. But bancorp/incomm, they are pure evil man. Stay anonymous! If you must go over $1k, do it rarely/in a pinch.

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