Is it Ok to Tell Cashiers About Manufactured Spending?

Last year, I outlined some mistakes to avoid when manufactured spending, one of which was “not being discreet (i.e. don’t tell cashiers what you’re doing). I’m beginning to reevaluate this stance based on some recent experiences. For example, I’ve heard of gift card churners who have relationships with people at certain shopping malls and Walmart stores. They tell them exactly what they’re doing (i.e. trying to earn frequent flyer miles through credit card spending) and the store employees in turn tolerate their activities after realizing these guys aren’t criminals trying to embezzle money out of stolen credit cards. 

The register is becoming a grim place

The register is becoming a grim place

In the past, I was against this tactic because I felt the less they knew about our hobby, the better. Years ago, I used to buy $6,000 worth of Vanilla Reload Cards at a CVS near work. At one point, the cashier remarked that I must be loaded because of how often I bought these cards. I told him it was a budgeting tool – that I was buying them for myself and extended family members so that I could earn credit card rewards on their spending. He thought it was great and every time he saw his colleagues giving me a hard time or getting suspicious, he’d tell them it was cool and showed them how to ring the cards up properly. What I told him was only half the truth, but I think he felt better about my twice-daily purchases knowing I wasn’t a criminal.

On a recent ms run, I went to my local mall and bought $5,000 worth of Visa gift cards. The representative helping me explained that she and her colleagues were aware of us “gamers” and they had no problems with our large gift card purchases. In fact, they were glad because we were the only ones willing to buy out their Christmas themed cards, which none of their other customers wanted anymore. 

So I’m starting to think being honest about our activities might be a good thing. There is a lot of fraud surrounding gift card purchases and store employees might feel more at ease (and willing to work with us) if they know we’re not among those doing this. The only place where I’d draw the line on transparency is if a store has a specific policy against manufactured spending. For example, most merchants won’t accept PIN-enabled gift cards for money order purchases unless they think it’s a debit card. So telling a cashier you’re buying large numbers of money orders with Visa gift cards probably won’t go over very well, since it goes against store policy.

I wouldn’t go into detail and tell the cashier at Safeway how I’m liquidating Visa gift cards, but I don’t think it’s so bad to explain I’m buying so many of them for the purpose of earning frequent flyer miles.

When large numbers of gift cards are being purchased, companies get suspicious and begin researching why that may be. They’ll come across blogs outlining everything, or maybe they’ll come across some article about how scammers are using Visa gift cards to extract thousands of dollars from stolen credit cards. They’ll either find out what the real deal is or put us into a category with criminals. So it might just be best to be open and explain ourselves. 

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it’s ok to be open with store employees about our hobby?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. I tend to agree with you. I hate to lie about it, and could never come up with a legitimate reason for buying large quantities. I could justify buying several $200 from Staples (gifts for work), but not several $500. I hope the reason stores change their policies on purchasing gift cards is not due to people like us, but rather the fraudulent purchases that occur. So why not put someone’s mind at ease. Like your experience with the lady in the mall, you might develop a friend for life!

  2. I would consider telling a cashier if I thought he/she would understand and be sympathetic. Sadly, it appears most cashiers in my area only stay in their jobs for a few weeks!

  3. Honesty is always the best policy. It’ll be a hit or miss depending on the employee you interact with. Also, you’re probably giving any “companies” too much credit about becoming suspicious. Most companies only begin to care when something that isn’t illegal by law isn’t profitable for them on a long term level and make their decision based on that. That’s why Amex probably shut down the serve/bb customers who weren’t charging much on their cards and only loading their accounts with debit/credit cards. I doubt it was because they viewed manufactured spending as unethical or shady.

  4. If I am a regular customer, I am completely open about my reasons for buying GC’s and then MO’s if I have maxed out my BB for the month. I only have problems at stores that I am a one time customer. Then, either they won’t do it at all or they limit me to $2K.

  5. Have you looked at Plastiq for payments using a credit card.
    They had a promotion a while back where you could set up utility payments for free using a MasterCard. Now it is 2.5% or less to make online payments.

  6. I have a great relationship with both of the CSRs at my local Simon Mall. In fact, last week I went on Friday instead of Saturday but I called Saturday to ask a question. The Saturday person, who didn’t work on Friday, was concerned because I hadn’t been in yet that day!

    As for cashing out the gift cards, I have two grocery stores where most of the people have no problem with it, even though we’ve never discussed why I do this every week. I was going to a third grocery and had/have a good relationship with the cashier but she thought it sounded fishy even though I explained it. I eventually quit going there because it seemed she wasn’t comfortable with it.

      • Totally agree. My SM customer service clerk actually asked me if I’m doing it for the “frequent flyer points”, and I said yes. She even asked me if I wished to split tender.

  7. I actually agree, but I don’t tell them the details, I just tell them I do it for the credit card points, and they’re like, okay cool. But you’re right, Simon Mall clerks usually know a bit more. I find that my local Office Depot manager knows too…and possibly my local Safeway, or some of the people there at least. (locations mentioned are all in the East Bay Area)

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