Manufactured Spending

My Conversation With an Asset Protection Associate

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. Plus, 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. The cashier confirmed it, so I let him look at the card, which had my mom’s name on it. He told me I was not allowed to make payments on someone else’s credit card. 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. 

Neighborhood Walmart money center

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 required 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 about how people buy money orders during multiple visits to avoid filling out proper paperwork. That had literally zero to do with me. 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 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 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 the 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.

After noticing me at two stores, he probably assumed I was up to something. 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:

  1. 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). 
  2. 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.
  3. 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. That 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. He reiterated that he was concerned about people who tried to circumvent reporting rules. 

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 inform the cashier. He would have an answer by Saturday and I could ask any store employee about his decision.

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. The lack of understanding and clarity on the rules just frustrates me. 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’re 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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  1. Jerry Mandel

    Using a credit card or any ID with someone else’s name on it should never be allowed. You should get a card as authorized user with your own name on it. They are wrong. Debit/gift cards never need a your name on them. Corporate policy.

  2. heavenlyjane

    You failed to mention one thing that could be relevant. Are you contributing to the financial success of these particular stores, or are you tying up their staff in an activity that has not revenue stream for them?

    • The last time I checked, you have to PAY to get a money order. The store sets the prices and the unless you are stealing an item you are contributing to their revenue stream. I agree, 68 cents is not much money for a money order, but that’s the price they have deemed fair.

    • Considering they earn $0.70 per $1,000 money order, I’d say I’m contributing to their financial success. Especially considering how little they pay their employees.

      • Well, MOs and GCs generally have never been money makers for these stores, whether it is your local grocery store or WM. They rely on the fact that you might also shop for additional things (for instance actual grocery) in addition to MOs and GCs.

        Having said that, I can only imagine things getting a little tougher for you from the MO perspective where you live. I’m sure you are smart enough and have a plan B, but the honeypot may not last long in your part of town (or for that matter anywhere in the country). Registers are getting hardcoded, cashiers are becoming more strict/hostile and in general, MSing has become more tedious than what it used to be.

      • MisterMister

        Actually WMT pays higher than any other major grocery store chain. So Im not buying your unfounded low pay claim.

  3. Thank you for the informative post !!

  4. I had multiple conversations with my WM’s asset protection manager and she did not even have a slightest clue on what’s allowed and what is not!
    WM hires cheap ghetto labor, that doesn’t know how much is 2+2, don’t have manners, neither speak regular English! Well, actually no one wants to work for the peanuts they are paying, but the troubled, lazy, uneducated kind.
    Who cares if this activity makes profit for them or not?! THEY advertise money order and bill pay services for a FEE, therefore they shouldn’t complain when you bring “work” to them!

  5. IME it’s pretty common for management at WM to be quite uninformed, and sometimes even less so than their staff. At my friendliest WM location, I’ve seen cashiers training the managers, not the other way around.

    I also had a manager fill out a SAR on me because “we’ve had a lot of people coming in here buying MOs for 999.30, and it’s a very specific amount”. Then after I gave him all my info, he wouldn’t let me split payments, so it was all for nothing, LOL.

    • I definitely expect the incompetence from their managers (I’ve actually seen “managers” getting trained on procedures by regular staff). But I didn’t expect the AP team to be so clueless, considering how important that job is.

  6. Thank you so much for paving the way! So much information here, still digesting it all. On the topic of raising suspicion…. wondering about the differences between depositing MO’s via paying credit card at credit card issued bank (i.e. Chase), or depositing them into personal checking account, or using bill pay at Walmart to pay off card.

    • I wouldn’t mess with Chase at all and Walmart bill pay is definitely the preferable option. When that’s not available, then I’ll deposit the mo’s into my bank account.

      • Jerry Mandel

        Ariana—–I can’t imagine paying for any commercial bill pay service. Why do it? Monthly, utilities, cable, cell phone are automatically charged to my credit card…..and I get miles or points. I can use my checking account (Bank of America) free Bill Pay feature for ACH payments on my PC. I can call up companies and furnish my checking account info for instant phone pay. It is very rare to write and mail a check.(usually for charities.)

  7. Jacques Cukierkorn

    Can’t this harassment be turned into a class action lawsuit?

  8. Hopefully you can answer this. Where do you obtain so many gift cards that have your name on it?

  9. In South FL I can not find a single Walmart that will allow money order purchases with gift cards. They always want to see the card and it should have a name on it that matches drivers license. You would like that Walmart would have a uniform rule about purchasing money orders.

  10. YoLaViajera

    Wow! What a bad scene, but it sounds like you dealt with it in a calm and rational way. I usually buy $1,900 in MOs, always staying under the $2K/day limit (which is enforced in my local WM). I also would rather leave than have to fill out a FinCen form. Why? Because I’m concerned about what the U.S. Department of Treasury would do with my information. I have no idea if they have an investigative unit, sort of like the U.S. Post Office does (which, by the way, is pretty good at catching postal crimes), but I don’t want to find out and get a knock on my door one day. I probably watch too many movies, but I’d rather not have my name out there. Having said that, people in our hobby are not committing crimes, so we should have nothing to fear, but the appearance of doing something fraudulent shrouds MSing. Do you have any concerns about all this? At the personal level? Thanks again for sharing your unsavory experience.

    • MisterMister

      what you are doing is possibly illegal. If you are intentionally skirting filling out the paperwork by coming in just under the # then you might be creating an issue

      • YoLaViajera

        I’m not sure what you’re insinuating, but there’s absolutely nothing illegal about chosing how much to MS each month. That’s a personal choice. I MS usually between $1,500 and $1,800 per month, which works for me and my budget. I can’t float more than that amount on a per month basis. Others may have a larger appetite for risk. I don’t. To each its own. How much do you MS per month?

    • I’m not concerned about what the government would do, but I do worry about WM having my SSN and other personal info. However, during a recent visit the manager assured me the paper gets locked up in an office, all the personal info gets redacted after it’s been entered into the computer, then the form is put back into the folder.

      • YoLaViajera

        Indeed, having one’s SSN out there is definitely a concern. I wonder why they wouldn’t just shred the paper after they’re already entered the info into the computer. The risk, naturally, lies in the potential loss or tampering of the folder. But it’s obvious that you’re aware of the risks. I admire the rational way in which you lay out the pros and cons of MSing, which is why I enjoy reading your blog. There’s no drama here or credit card peddling… Fingers crossed that those places you’ve found that work for you stay around for a long time. The whole house of cards will eventually topple for all of us MSers, eventually, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy earning the points to take my family on trips we could otherwise not afford. 🙂

  11. Great report Ariana! Lots of very useful information, thanks for sharing!!!

  12. in Seattle area i can’t find any WM and post office let me buy M.O Please help iam new at this manufactured spending

  13. Farnorthtrader

    This is interesting to me as a former banker in Canada. What you have described here, going from one Walmart to another to turn 10,000 in gift cards into money orders at each store would be illegal in Canada due to the appearance of trying to hide the extent of your transactions, and, I understood, also in the US. We had to track amd report cumulative transactions for a single customer through all of our branches. So if you showed up at each of 5 branches for $10,000 each, we had to report all $50,000 as one transaction and, most definitely, a “suspicious transaction”, based on your avoiding the appearance of a single $50,000 transaction. Those reports aren’t completed by the customer, they are completed by the company without your involvement, and are probably being reported at the corporate level by Walmart. Most likely, the reports would never affect you, as they are largely just recorded and never used by Fincen until you are charged with a crime, but the possibility of getting in trouble for money laundering is certainly possible, although highly improbable.

  14. Here’s where the whole thing will collapse–and I suspect you’re seeing the leading wave of it already–I purchased a simple $500 GC at a grocery store to get the Freedom 5X UR points (I don’t MS; but try to maximize pts instead). I was going to use card to pay for other things the next day. I activated the card when I got home and before I could use it, someone had gone to a Wal-mart and placed an order for $497 at 4:00 AM. It took me six weeks to get my money back; filing all sorts of forms/affadavits with the Visa GC folks. Really a pain in the ass. I bet WM ate the $497 too. Someone did. It takes a lot of chump change MO sales to make up that kind of fraud. The criminals are going to collapse the system.

  15. Well, your “APG” friend is clearly an idiot. That said, there simply must be some other place to play your money order games! Personally. I have graced a Wal-Mart store with my presence only ONCE – and will never do so again. Thugs, the lot of them, interested only in your wallet. (I spent under $10) Making this post was smart, but find a new place to play your spending games.

  16. Trevor the Sloth

    Thanks for the useful post. As someone who has worked customer service for 5 years before moving into corporate, I really appreciate your commitment to being respectful even when the EE doesn’t know the rules…and sharing that attitude here.

    Once you have your MOs, do you send them to your CC to pay the bill? I’m quite familiar w/my options to get GC & MO in my area, just trying to figure out best way once I have. Appreciate any input :).

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