Blog: SecureSpend

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SecureSpend - Friday, February 24, 2023
Priscilla likes maximizing credit card points, and we both have the Chase Freedom card which gives us 5% cashback in revolving categories that change every quarter. This quarter it's grocery stores and gym memberships. So over the past weekend, we each bought $1000 worth of SecureSpend prepaid Visa debit cards (i.e. 4 $500 cards, since $500 is the maximum you can load on a card) from Safeway.

We intended to use those cards to donate to our team members who are participating in the RealOptions Walk for Life on March 4. Our church participates every year, and Priscilla and I both signed up, with her walking and me running.

So we were a little annoyed when our attempt to use the cards online failed, but we chalked it up to an address mismatch since there's no way to register an address with SecureSpend cards. Then, when we checked the balance for each card, two of the cards were reporting as invalid. I found some Reddit posts where people claimed to have lost money due to not being able to access their card funds. And when we rechecked the balance for the previously good cards, those started reporting as invalid as well. We were really freaking out at this point, and it looked like the company was scamming us like some people had reported. The next morning, we tried using the cards to buy gift cards in-person at Costco, and all four cards were declined.

We should've called customer support at the number on the back of the cards, but I had read that people weren't able to get through to a person or got hung up on. And since it seemed so obvious that we were being scammed, it seemed pointless to call. So instead, we returned to the Safeway where we had bought the cards and reported the issue to the manager. We learned something interesting: that gift cards in the display are stocked by a vendor who merely rents space from the store, and the cards themselves are issued by yet other companies. The store doesn't make any money from the sale of each card, not even the activation fee. So the money is tied up in the card, and the store has no ability (or incentive) to refund the money. With store gift cards, the respective store has the ability and incentive to help you out. But with prepaid debit cards, you have two entities before the card issuer, and if the issuer decides to be shady, you don't have much direct recourse.

Priscilla ended up calling SecureSpend customer support and, to our surprise, she was able to get through to a person and get our cards unlocked. My theory is that they locked our cards because we had checked multiple high-value cards within a short amount of time. There's a lot of fraud on the consumer side of gift cards and prepaid debit cards, so I can understand why the company is being extra paranoid. Still, the experience was confusing and frightening, and they can be doing a much better job with informing users.

Priscilla was then able to use one of the cards to donate $100 to RealOptions! But subsequent attempts to donate another $100, then $50, using the same card failed. As did trying to donate $200 with another card. And she tried swiping the first card at Costco to buy groceries, but that was declined, even though the card was still showing up as valid on the website.

Altogether, she had to call customer support 4 times to get them to unlock cards. To their credit, most of the reps were helpful. Priscilla ended up just using the $2000 to make multiple donations to RealOptions, and she had the final rep hang out with her on the phone for 48 minutes while she made the transactions, in case anything were to go wrong.

So in the end, we were able to use up all the card balances, and all's well that ends well. So the company wasn't trying to scam us; their systems are just not great - a true case of Hanlon's razor. But this experience did reveal to us how much we value money and security, and how much it affects us when those things are threatened. We certainly need to be prudent with our money and we probably won't be buying prepaid debit cards again, but ultimately, all of what we have belongs to God and we need to remember that we are just stewards.