I was going to restrict my manufactured spending activities posts to monthly summaries, but I think what happened this week is worth sharing. This past weekend, I went to one of my regular Walmart stores. This is the only location where I’ve been able to split payments on bill pay and they always allowed me to buy $10,000 worth of money orders in five transactions. When I came back from Europe, I was told that I could no longer buy money orders in multiple transactions. It would all have to be on one receipt, which meant I was limited to $2,000 per day. No problem – as long as I still had bill pay as a liquidation option, it was fine.
I went to this location to pay my Discover credit card bill this weekend, a man popped up out of nowhere and asked if he could see the credit card and ID. He told me he was from Asset Protection and the cashier confirmed it, so I let him look at the card, which had my mom’s name on it. He then told me that I was not allowed to make payments on a credit card that wasn’t mine. I couldn’t see how this transaction could be seen as fraud-related, but I let it go after reasoning with him didn’t work.
Yesterday, I walked into my other go-to Walmart – the only location where I can still buy money orders in multiple transactions. I get there and my regular cashier begins to ring me up. Again, Asset Protection Guy pops up behind me and says, “Make sure you check her ID against the cards.” He’s carrying items and posing as a customer, like he was last time. I turn around and he recognizes me and says, “Hi, we met at the other store last week.” “Yes, I remember. What’s going on now?” He tells me the cashier has to make sure the name on the cards I’m using match my ID.
The cashier tells him I’m using gift cards, which he says is fine as long as my name is on them. Asset Protection Guy (APG) disappears while she processes my money orders. The line gets long at one point so I do what I always do – I step away and let her help the other customers to keep it moving.
Just as the last money order was printing, APG showed up with a burly middle-aged woman charging ahead of him. For dramatic effect, she was wearing one of those windbreakers that you always see police officers wearing at crime scenes (or criminals robbing everyone’s least favorite reality star). She came barging over like she was leading a SWAT Team on a drug bust. Olivia Benson started barking at the cashier about how many money orders were purchased. “Around $10,000. Less, actually.” I pointed out that we filled out the FinCEN form that’s required on purchases over $3,000.
“Is it $10,000 or more? Because if it’s $10,000 and more, there’s a whole other form we gotta fill out.” “It’s less than $10,000,” the cashier tells her. APG is just standing nearby, watching this unfold. Meanwhile, Olivia Benson starts going on and on about how people buy money orders, leave, then come back so they don’t have to fill out the proper paperwork. That had literally zero to do with me and she was pissing me off with her rudeness towards the cashier and making it seem like I was doing something wrong. There were three other people in line behind me and they must have thought I was some kind of criminal based on this drama queen’s rant.
She went on and on until I interrupted, “Excuse me. I didn’t leave and come back, and I’m not trying to circumvent any rules. I came in like I have many times before [the cashier interjects to confirm this], I buy money orders in one visit, always fill out the paperwork, and two of your managers have dealt with me on numerous occasions. They’ve never had an issue with this process and I don’t appreciate you insinuating that I’m somehow doing something dishonest here.” She slowed her roll and said, “I wasn’t saying you were doing it. I was telling her other people were doing it.” “Well it’s completely irrelevant to this situation here, so I don’t know why you feel the need to make a scene. I paid for the money orders and filled out the form. What’s the problem?” She paused and said, “I was just telling her what to watch out for.” I took my receipt, turned to APG, and asked if I could speak to him for a moment.
I’m sure after noticing me at two stores, he assumed I was up to something, so I wanted to clear the air. I told him I was aware that there is a lot of fraud around money order purchases, with criminals getting a hold of credit card numbers and all that. He nodded in agreement. I explained that me and a couple of other people who come to this store to buy money orders are part of a small community of people who do this for the frequent flyer miles. I gave him a general overview and answered some of his questions. He knew a bit about this hobby. We talked for a good half hour and I think we both came away from it with a better understanding of the situation.
His concerns were mainly:
- Criminal gangs were stealing people’s credit cards, using them for gift card purchases, and liquidating them at the money center (something I was already aware of).
- Some people who aren’t using stolen gift cards try to get around filling out paperwork by making multiple visits to the store in one day.
- To him, I seemed like someone who fell into bucket #2 and had left and returned within a half hour period.
I explained that I hadn’t left or tried to get around reporting requirements because I had filled out the FinCEN form, which he and his colleague had seen moments ago. If I hadn’t left, he wondered, why had I been here so long? I explained it was because the line was getting long, so I let other people go ahead of me in between transactions, something he could verify with the cashier. He insisted that wasn’t necessary and that he’d simply made the wrong assumption.
I made it clear that I (and other people in this hobby) wanted to operate within the rules, which is why I always fill out the FinCEN forms and have never been reprimanded by the two managers who regularly supervise these transactions.
He also cleared up the policy for me at the other location: I was still allowed to buy more than $2,000 worth of money orders, as long as I did it in one visit. Their cashiers were mistaken in telling me otherwise. He reiterated that their problem was with people who made multiple trips to one store to circumvent reporting rules, but that he understood I wasn’t one of those people.
During our conversation, he kept contradicting himself on whether all the purchases had to be on the same receipt. He finally said he would research it and make sure he and the cashiers were properly informed. He would have an answer by Saturday and if I came in the store, I could ask any employee and they would let me know what had been decided.
While I appreciated him doing his research, it was pretty astounding to me that the Asset Protection team was so clueless about their own policies. And that they would jump to conclusions and overreact in such a fantastic way without verifying some basic facts. I still can’t make sense of that ridiculous display the woman put on, rambling on about people circumventing reporting requirements with my completed FinCEN form right under her nose.
I don’t expect this manufactured spending stuff to last forever, but I do get frustrated by the lack of understanding and clarity on the rules. Hopefully the Asset Protection team gets some solid answers about what is and isn’t allowed. Gift cards don’t seem to be a problem for them, but rather how they were obtained. Whatever the outcome, going forward I won’t have to deal with misinformed store employees trying to enforce non-existent rules. Wishful thinking, perhaps…
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