Don’t do it

Last week, a number of blogs revealed that Evolve Money accepts credit cards for payment.  In my opinion, it was irresponsible to blog about it, and it is risky to do it.  Here’s why…

It is a glitch, not a feature

Yes, the website says that they accept MasterCard and Visa, but what they mean is that they accept MasterCard and Visa debit cards.  The ability to accept MasterCard credit cards is, I strongly believe, an accident.  In fact, a Vice President at Evolve has been quoted as saying that they will accept credit cards in the future, but will charge a fee.  Here is an excerpt from an interview with Evolve at The Free-quent Flyer blog:

…one thing we’re going to add in the future, is the ability for you to use your credit card to make payments. Unfortunately, we’re gonna charge for using a credit card.

It is risky

Some people have claimed that when they used credit cards with Evolve Money, they were charged cash advance fees.  I don’t know if that is true, but it seems plausible that some banks would do that.  It is also plausible that people are simply trying to scare the masses away so that this deal can live on.  Either way, it is a fair warning.

More concerning, in my mind, is the chance of banks shutting down your accounts.  I personally know at least two people who have had their bank accounts abruptly shut down from using Evolve Money in ways that were clearly not intended.  If you pay bills through Evolve with a credit card, it may be just a matter of time until your bank decides something fishy is going on.  You don’t want that.

Please read this plea Evolve made on Flyertalk in February (bolding is mine):

It sounds like people on this forum find Evolve Money very useful for paying all of their bills. All we ask is that you don’t abuse the system by trying to “churn” money – it doesn’t help us, the service providers and institutions we provide payments for. And most importantly, it doesn’t help you. In the long run, all financial institutions are required to share information and these kind of activities can get you in hot water. Not to mention that there may be tax implications when paying into financial institutions. Keep it to paying your regular bills like mortgage, gas, water, electricity, car loan, insurance, cable, wireless, internet and others like that and you’ll be fine.

Evolve is great for its intended use.  Please don’t kill it.

Evolve is great for paying bills that can’t normally be paid by credit card such as mortgages, student loans, education savings programs, etc.  And, better yet, Evolve has publicly stated that they are committed to accepting MasterCard and Visa gift cards, and awards earning debit cards.  With those supported options, there are fantastic point earning opportunities out there.  If we abuse their service, they may have to cut back on what they’ll accept and/or stop offering the service altogether. 

My thoughts on blogging “deals” like this

Many bloggers (including me) have known about this glitch for a while, but we didn’t blog about it.  For some background about how I decide what is blog-able or not, please see “Blogging the line.”  In this case, blogging could harm the company involved (Evolve), kill not only the specific deal but also the ability to use gift cards and debit cards, and could harm readers who may get caught up in bank shutdowns and the like.  I couldn’t imagine any upside to blogging about it.  I realize that all bloggers draw the line differently, and I accept that, but this line should have been visible to all.

When a prominent blogger (who is a friend of mine, by the way) recently wrote about this deal, I was upset but still kept silent on my blog because I didn’t want to add to the publicity.  Then, many other blogs started writing about it as well.  Even then, I wasn’t going to write about it.  Every single additional mention adds to the publicity and to the risk.  Upon reflection, though, I decided that I needed to warn people of these risks.  So, I wrote this post. 

Am I being hypocritical?  Some will point out that my blog kills deals too.  For example, I recently wrote quite a bit about amazing opportunities to buy $200 gift cards at Staples.com and earn both points and money along the way.  Then, Staples apparently stopped paying out to portals for Staples’ gift card purchases.  The jury is still out on whether all portals have stopped paying out, but it does seem that some have stopped.   Some will point to this and say that I killed the deal.  Others will say that I accurately predicted the end of the deal (see “A great disturbance in the Force”).  It’s possible that both are true.  The difference between the Staples’ deal and Evolve credit card use is that the former was made up of publicly advertised offers, whereas the latter is a stumbled upon glitch.  I write about miles and points deals.  That’s what I do.  If the elements of those deals are publicly available and I feel that they’re worth writing about, I will.  Yes, public exposure from my blog and others will occasionally kill such deals.  That sucks, but that’s the reality of it.

By the way, I leave you with this, which is still (as of Sunday afternoon) front and center in the uPromise portal:

uPromiseStaples

 

 

Notice what they still say about gift cards?  “Give the gift of easy, gift cards now available at Staples.”  My guess is that they simply haven’t fixed the text yet, but we’ll see.

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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Comments

  1. I think upromise is out, somebody on a private forum made a purchase with a giftcard and non gift card item. Cash back posted for the non gift card item but not the gift card.

    That said, it’s a bit too early for upromise to even be posting for that time period so they are probably full of shit.

    The evolve flaw was known for awhile and publicly posted/privately posted about a lot. It’s disappointing that MMS decided to go public, but at the same time it’s gotten him a lot of attention and links so it was probably worth it for him – just not the rest of us!

    • Interesting: I haven’t heard that data point. Even if that one report is true, though, it doesn’t necessarily mean that uPromise is out. It could be that Staples sends uPromise confirmations of gift card purchases separately from other things, especially since they tend to take a bit longer to ship.

  2. Its difficult to be a blogger with ethics and morals. Its a cutthroat business and most of the bloggers out there are looking for any way to get traffic and make some cash. MMS is constantly stealing content from others and posting it in a manner that attracts newbies and lazy points enthusiasts who need big red arrows to show them how to do everything. I’m guessing his readership is constantly turning over and does not have as many regular readers as you do. It seems to be working out for him now, but at some point the model is unsustainable. Anyone who continues in this game for more than a short period of time eventually discovers other blogs and comes to realize that MMS is the bottom of the barrel. If only something could be done about it.

  3. It’s not clear to me why the Evolve glitch is bad for the company in a way that any other manufactured spend is not.
    .
    The goal of manufactured spend is to buy money and get someone to pay you a premium to do so. If you get your money back, or even if the cost to you is less than the cost to the company that has to fulfill your premium (that is, the cost of the miles to whomever winds up paying for them) it seems to me that, just like in the Evolve case, your’re harming the company by tricking them out of some money.
    .
    Am I missing something?

    • Yes, you’re missing something you’ve just wrote yourself. The Evolve feature was a glitch. MS schemes use features that are intentionally provided.

    • In this case, it is harming Evolve since they presumably have to pay credit card processing fees rather than debit processing fees. And, it is potentially hurting the consumer who does this since the banks that issue the credit cards in question might shut down his/her accounts. Ironically, I don’t think it would hurt the bank involved unless the rewards they pay out are greater than their income from the credit card processing fees.

  4. I’m glad you addressed the Staples Gig in your post. Unfortunately the Staples Gig worked for 13 mos before it really got pumped hard. Unfortunately the community is left to whims of a few people who get to decide what Profit+Miles/Points deals live on quietly or get outed and die quickly.

  5. In general, the bloggers are the 1 percent controlling the 99. This is the way life is generally for the world’s people – regardless of subject being discussed. I can see now way to change it other than try to can access to inner sanctums of the 1% and that will require alot of effort and closed doors in the process of getting there.

  6. It’s kind of entertaining watching bloggers now blame each other for killing a deal. 🙂

    I enjoy FM’s blog (especially the Quick Deals!). I also have learned a lot from MMS, MP, and FTG. But we all know what drives the content and after a short while, everything becomes regurgitated and copycatted.

    I appreciate the bloggers. I don’t generally think they actually kill the deals. The people that kill the deals are those that jump in full-throttled and excessively abuse the opportunities. Most of us live in moderation-world and we’re happy to play the game to get our families to a nice vacation once or twice a year. We don’t NEED to scale up to $8,000 in staples gift cards in one week (I heard somebody brag about that!). But those that do live excessively will always bring attention to their actions and kill things for the rest of us. On the other hand, there are always new opportunities, as well as the tried-and-true methods that still work just fine.

  7. Do you think it is ethical (and safe) to create multiple evolve accounts to get around the $1000/day limit?

    • I think so, but I’m sure some would disagree. When I use three accounts to make mortgage payments all in one day, all of the costs and fees involved are exactly the same as if I made payments on three successive days. So, I don’t think anyone is getting hurt in this case by bending the rules a little. I also don’t think a mortgage company would ever consider closing a person’s account. The only likely risk to you is that Evolve will stop allowing you to pay that particular mortgage.

      An easy solution, it appears, is to make payments on successive days on the weekend starting with Thursday evening. People have reported that that approach works just as well. I tried it once (not even on a weekend) and it worked. Not sure why.

  8. Thank you for sharing the link to Evolves post on Flyertalk. I read many of the posts about using a credit card, but I got the sense that it was not so much a loophole, but that the credit card feature went live before its announcement. I have yet to use Evolve, but I plan to in the near future. I think that this is a good reminder to read and do your research before you jump into deals too quickly.

  9. I still think that it was reckless to post about the Staples deal. It simply wasn’t going to last.

    You are in the business to make money, and I also believe that you want to help people. I think the MMS guy is solely focused on the money, and doesn’t care how people are impacted. It’s the nature of the business, as you elogquently stated.

    Ultimately, what I think doesn’t matter. I visit your blog and you continue to have a strong viewing audience. That said, much respect for this post.

    • Agreed. But sadly, he’s little different than many other pimps hawking CC. Some are less in your face, but the entire “hobby” has been ruined by the incessant grabbing for dollars. The way to stop it is to NEVER use an affiliate link – from ANY blogger. That way there is no incentive to out deals via circles and arrows (or even slightly less obvious posts). FM is good, but he’s crossed the line at times. MMS just doesn’t care so long as the supply of noobs and lazy nitwits doesn’t slow…

  10. I was hit with CA fees on my Barclays cards when I paid my March mortgage payment. I thought this was dead in the water a while ago.

  11. I guess I’m not sure what Evolve is worried about. By virtue of limiting their bill pay options to mortgages, utilities, etc they shouldn’t be at any risk for contributing to that “churn” behavior. Unless there’s something I’m missing, by NOT including the ability to pay CC bills they should be in the clear…..

  12. Let’s be honest.

    Yes, MMS is a complete slime-ball. Greedy and dishonest. Zero ethics.
    But he is only the most obvious, most egregious example. ALL so-called “travel bloggers” really are not any different. They can’t be, despite pretensions to the contrary. You all have a fundamental conflict of interest that completely colors your judgement and perceptions.

    The day a blogger stops collecting money, directly or indirectly, from his blog is the day that he can be trusted. Until then, you are all shills, it’s only a matter of degree window-dressing.

    I’ve been playing this game for over 20 years (yes, really). In the last year or so, it has been ruined, by greedy idiots like MMS and his moron zombie army that follows his big red arrows.

    • I see. Obviously you are judging people with your “own” standard so you can continue enjoying this privately for another twenty years.

  13. What’s interesting is that it was known by some before the beans were spilled. The people who knew were probably taking advantage of the glitch and certainly hurting Evolve. So, was it ok to hurt Evolve then, but not now?

    • Good question , lovetofly.
      All those in the know are aghast now that the cat is out of the bag. And they see their sweet loophole ending soon(if not ended already). I’d love the blogger(s) to answer this question.
      Why was it ok to use the glitch before but not publicize it? Was it not unethical before ?

    • In this post, I didn’t intend to say anything one way or another about the ethics of the deal. I simply pointed out the dangers: danger of the user getting shut down, danger of Evolve shutting down the ability to use gift cards, etc. The ethics haven’t changed one way or another. However, the danger has probably increased tremendously. With more people using credit cards, I think that the chance of a credit card company figuring out what’s going on and shutting people down is much higher.

  14. FM — have you had any post-5/1 upromise staples purchases actually post? When last I read the comments, I thought that, despite the language, after 5/1 there was no tracking on GC purchases.

    • Yes, my most recent pending cash back from uPromise was for an order placed on 5/3. My most recent pending cash back from Shop Discover was from an order placed 5/11.

      • Just called UP customer service about my Staples GC orders from May 2 and May 8 that have not yet posted on UP. As I believe others have commented, agent confirmed that gift card purchases still qualify for 5% cash back, unless and until the Staples terms and restrictions are changed to disqualify gift cards. Agent did mention the restriction on multiple quantities of the same product, but agreed that the quantity restriction only applies to resellers for the sole purpose of resale. Agent did not know what quantity would trigger questions about the purpose of the purchase. Agent did not have anything to add about the timing of the transaction postings, just said to call them again if the purchase has not posted 45 days after the purchase date.

  15. FM: this has been bugging me since all the posts started on this as well.

    What I wish you would have mentioned as well, is that when people process credit cards through it instead, at the end of the month, when evolve gets their processing statement they will be pay 2%+ for all those transactions that were actually credit cards and will be socked with lots of fees. This isn’t a glitch where the website made a typo and now pays for their error, this is borderline theft…we’re gonna kill off a great small business!

  16. As a side note, you gotta love a certain haughty blogger for making statements like “I’ve has 7 figure earn days, though I did think it was a cute when a big deal was made over earning 7 figure miles in a month”

  17. Over on MMS, we could not help but notice the post that exposed this a few days ago.
    .
    MileageUpdate had commented:
    .
    And here we have Evolve who allows us to use debit cards to pay bills not available for normal CC pmts but we are gonna get over on them to squeeze a few CC charges out of them? How can anyone see this as sustainable with them eating the 2+% charge for each $1k you charge? They lose $20-30 on each 1k transaction you run. So if 100 of us hit them for a CC charge then they lose 2-3k? Seems like we as Mileage Collectors are constantly shooter ourselves in the foot by intentionally running a deal over. This shouldn’t have been treated like a mistake fair.
    .

    I had commented:
    .
    buncha fools
    .
    when a site like Evolve lets a CC go through like this, it is a glitch, a mistake, a hidden loophole that is NOT supposed to be doable, known or heavily exploited. Here we have a situation–like many I have seen before it–where a company is aware of MSers and even proposes to work with MSer mentalities (letting people use GCs, etc) and charges no fee right now. But now, this CC thing comes up and hey, yeah it has worked before… I can tell you that when Evolve first started I ran a ton of GCs thru to pay my Citi equity line and then they took the line away and so now, the only thing I would bother needing Evolve for is my National Grid electric Bill… and that yes, I even ran like $50 in CC just to see if it work one time. But I didnt say a thing about it publicly! Now, though, a gazillion people are going to do this and guess what is going to happen:
    .
    1) Evolve gets hit with HUGE fees.
    2) many of you will get hit with CA fees
    3) Evolve may stop all kinds of things and call it abuse
    4) everybody loses.
    .
    Why make such things so public? For what personal gain?
    .
    Dumb!
    .
    Like many heavy user MSers, I go out and find many deals and gigs on my own or with a group of like-minded thinkers who test and try but in small batches. We vet deals and we vet people (to be sure they wont report it for the sake of some false need to share to the masses).
    .
    Going public on such things–this kind of glitch, or any kind of deal (especially ones that are MS cash positive)–helps NO ONE except those who solely make money off CC hits. I mean, it’s ok to make money, just not in this way.

  18. 04/30 – Staples order of $400
    05/05 – UPromise posts transaction

    05/11 – Staples order of $2000
    No posting on UPromise

  19. I find Evolve’s plea rather amusing though, “don’t churn money” with their support of gift cards. Right, everyone using gift cards is just using up the spare one or two that they got for Christmas. So they are saying, don’t hurt evolve, but we will make it easier to hurt the issuers!

  20. Hey FM,
    Thanks for writing this piece. I have to say that I haven’t been as much a fan since the mile madness idea (and then the follow-up this year) because it started promoting something that is the antithesis of responsibility – making as much as possible in a short period of time, for the glory of the chase and broadcasting it publicly. It drew lots of attention & even more aggressive people into the game (there were some before – I saw the post Avi was referring to above as well, and I respect the creativity and knowledge of that blogger as well – but the braggadocio of it should be embarrassing.) and things have exploded, to the point when people are now doing this for income. I saw one quote from the CLT event where one attendee stated ‘It was almost looked down on it you were at MS <$20K/month'.

    I was always a big proponent of sharing deals, but this reminds me of the SD deals where a few users buy 100s of a sale item for resale, while denying others a chance when the supply runs out and the deal ends. At that point it stops being sharing and is being done for profit, sounds familiar to me… like the extreme MS volumes going on.

    I do appreciate you being one of the bloggers to say no to some of these ideas, and the research and quality you try to provide without crossing the line. As everyone has noted above, it's all of the different lines that are the greatest challenge for all. The game will always continue to change.

    • Thanks for that feedback. I think you give me too much credit though for leading people towards going bigger and faster. As you know, many people were going crazy with the Mint, the AARP card, etc well before I even knew about this hobby. And, today, I think that gift card PINs are largely to thank for making it relatively easy to make a living off manufactured spend. That said, I do see how my Million Mile Madness stunt could have encouraged people to do more faster despite the many obstacles and headaches I wrote about at the time.

  21. I couldn’t figure out how Evolve made money until I started using it. Then I noticed that my debit/gift card was debited immediately, but the money was only sent 2 days later. So Evolve gets the float for two days. Not a lot of money, but if they can get enough volume, I’m betting the float more than pays for their costs.

    But if they accept credit cards, they have to pay the CC fees, and there goes their profit. They aren’t taking credit cards because they want to make money.

    If they did take credit cards the service couldn’t be free.

    • I’m not sure they really get to keep the float. My assumption has been that they make the transfer through ACH which typically takes about 3 days. So, my assumption has been that the billers must pay Evolve a small amount for the service of helping to ensure that they get paid. That’s just my guess. Anyway, yes, if they have to eat credit card fees, their profit, if any, would have to be eroded.

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