When Tesco called the police when a HFP reader bought 3V cards ….

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This post is now less relevant than it was, unfortunately.  I had it ready to go for a week or so, waiting for the right day.  And then, before I could run it, the effective end of the 3V card bonanza was announced on Thursday.

Reader David hit serious trouble recently when he tried to buy some 3V cards in his local Tesco store.  He allowed me to share his story, which I have edited slightly:

3V card

“I just thought I’d get in touch to give your readers a word of warning regarding the bulk-purchasing of 3V gift cards from Tesco.  I have just got back from my local Tesco having been detained for the best part of an hour-and-a-half.

The previous day, I had bought a total of 14 cards. 11 confirmation slips had printed, leaving three cards “in limbo”.  After a long chat with the customer services desk, they managed to generate the confirmation slips for two of the three cards.  The remaining one card they couldn’t activate, meaning no confirmation slip.  The customer services person suggested that I take the card, try it, and return the next day if there were problems.  Of course the card had not activated.

This morning I returned to the store with the card and receipt in hand and went straight for the customer services desk.  Tesco are very twitchy when it comes to gift cards, so the duty manager was called.   “He’s just coming down”.

A few minutes later the duty manager appears, with two security guards in tow.  “Excuse me sir, we believe you’re using a fraudulent card and need to talk to you out the back”.  I was being escorted to their “Interview Room” (a 2m x 2m room with a table and a couple of chairs).  On the walk down I asked the duty manager exactly what had given the impression that my transaction was fraudulent.  He produced a piece of paper which stated something to the effect of:

To all stores, please be aware that criminals are using fraudulent cards to purchase large numbers of iPads, tablets, gift cards, etc.  The cards they are using have numbers ending in xxxx, yyyy and zzzz.

yyyy is, by coincidence, the last 4 digits of my Amex Gold card.

I was invited to sit at the interview table and given a glass of water.  The duty manager disappeared at this point; I didn’t see him again.  The door has been propped open with a chair, and a security guard is standing in the doorway avoiding eye contact.  There are several staffers walking by and almost every one of them gave my a look which said “so they’ve caught another one”.

20 minutes pass which I use to establish why the security guard didn’t make it into the police.  Eventually, two police officers show up.  I produced my driving license and cards in an effort to prove I am the cardholder.  This didn’t seem to be enough so PC #1 turned and asked PC #2 if there was a number they could call American Express on.

“Back of the card.” I said.

Cue 5 mins of policeman on the 0845 number frustratedly entering my card number to the ask “What’s your 4-digit PIN?”.  “I’m not giving you my PIN – let me speak to them”.  Once I’d authenticated as myself using my own credentials (!) I explained the situation to the girl on the end of the phone who then proceeded to ask me a few further verification questions in order that she could then vouch for me. At this point I’m thankful that Amex customer service is so good in terms of waiting times and staff attentiveness.  Having passed my call to the “fraud team”, the Amex customer service rep confirmed that I was the card holder and that the account was mine.  Well it wasn’t enough for the police who pressed on with their line of questioning:

“Why £350 of gift cards? And why £300 the week before?”

I explained that it was essentially a ruse to gain Clubcard and MR points.  They were generally disinterested.  The store manager was lurking outside at this point and piped up:

“Is this a full time job for you?”  “It’s starting to feel like it.” was my reply.

At this point the police seemed happy I was just an airmiles gatherer and nothing more sinister. I was “released” from “custody”.

I was still £25 down in terms of my inactive giftcard though.  I now expected apologies all round and the red carpet treatment in terms of getting the issue resolved, but this was a naive assumption.  The store manager was terse, rude, and was clearly still convinced I was a criminal.  After all, my card ends in yyyy doesn’t it?

Cue another 20 minutes standing at the tills explaining to the store manager that he’s not “taking a £25 hit” on the replacement giftcard.  “You’re not taking a £25 hit because I was incorrectly billed for this useless, inactive card!  You’re simply supplying what I’ve already paid for.”

I get the impression not many staff truly understand gift cards, as was indicated by the poor gaggle of three till staff and one manager surrounding one till.  I will be putting my complaint in writing to Tesco regarding my treatment from their store manager.

All in all a very unpleasant experience.  I can see why they have to be vigilant and on the lookout, I get that, but the way it was handled was just awful.  I walked out that store two hours after I walked in, with my replacement 3V card and activation confirmation in hand, along with a dented sense of pride.

My advice to your readers is this:

  • Do not under any circumstances leave the store without an activation slip for each and every 3V card you’ve purchased.
  • Be aware that someone at Tesco Corporate has issued a notice to stores to be vigilant when it comes to gift card purchases and your Gold Card ending in yyyy may have been marked.
  • Be prepared to prove your identity ensuring all cards are signed and in your name.  Also note that you may need to take the lead when it comes to proving your card is not a fake.
  • Do not purchase more than 10 cards in a single transaction.  Tesco’s till system seems to have issues with unprinted confirmations once the total passes 12 or so cards.  Also ensure the checkout operator presses “Sub Total” after scanning each card to activate one card at a time rather than the whole lot at once when payment is made.”

– – – –

Given the changes on Thursday, most people will not now be bulk buying 3V cards – unless they spend a lot on Amazon, pay a lot of ebay fees or have a council who still accept the cards.  There is still an important lesson here, though, which is that you can never expect everything to go smoothly if you take part in schemes like this!

Love Clubcard, don’t collect Avios?  You should be reading our sister site, Shopper Points (www.shopperpoints.co.uk), which covers the latest Clubcard and Nectar offers without any distracting frequent flyer talk!  Why not check it out now?

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  1. So Tesco thought the customer was using a fraudulent credit card, took him to a room, gave him a drink and called the police. Doesn’t seem too awful to me.

  2. It just seems absurd that they were identifying cards for fraudulent transactions on the basis of the last four digits, do they not realise that there is more than one card with the same digits? If the card is being used for fraud then surely it would be cancelled by its owner anyway, why would there be a need to warn stores of fraudulent use of three cards?

    • quite. My wife and I both have Amex cards with identical last four digits. We both have the Avios habit but we don’t have that many cards!

      But I agree with your analysis. If a card is being use for fraud then the card issuer blocks the use of the card. Shop staff shouldn’t need to be issued with lists. That might have been what happened in the 1980s, but not in 2013

  3. Tesco may have overreacted, but I’ve never got involved in this blatant “churning” business. There’s a line that takes you into the realms of money laundering or other frauds and IMO the smell test to the uninitiated would put you across that line.

    Get into this kind of game at your peril. Same goes for buying Sterling travellers cheques for the miles then cashing them into your account.

    • Sorry Tony, I have to disagree.
      There is absolutely no hint of Money Laundering or fraud here.
      There is a specific offence of Money Laundering which has very specific criteria, none of which would be remotely met by this churning. The whole premise of Money Laundering is converting ‘dirty’ money into ‘clean’ money. In this instance it is clear that the funds are already ‘clean’ – especially once Amex etc had vouched for the OP.
      You would only be ‘across the line’, as you say, if the ‘uninitiated’ alludes to it and has no idea around the fundamentals of Money Laundering and what it really is. In reality, that is only crossing the line in their mind, not in the real world. In my mind I may think I am a cross between Robert Redford, Paul Newman with the physique of Arnie, but in reality that is not the case. It would be better that Tesco train their staff rather than just giving them ‘phases’ that they can latch onto, but don’t understand.
      Re the ‘fraud’ aspect – again, there is nothing illegal in this churning. It may not sit comfortably with people, and it may be against the ‘spirit’ of the offer, but that is up to the retailer to be smarter when making offers. We can’t blame the consumer for spotting an opportunity just because the retailer is incompetent when drawing up the T&C’s of the offer. After all, if it wasn’t for these opportunities then HfP would close down.
      It is a far cry from doing something illegal.

    • What planet are you on buddy, this isn’t converting drugs or prostitution cash to legit money, this is a legitimate transaction. As is depositing sterling travelers cheques that one has bought into ones own bank account. Get a grip you Muppet.

      • The point, I think, was that if you do stuff which looks like it could be dodgy – which would include depositing large slugs of travellers cheques – then you shouldn’t be surprised if questions are asked. However, you should also expect no trouble once you have answered those questions.

  4. While you can liken this to money laundering, there’s money laundering and there’s money laundering. This is a perfectly legal thing that these companies have done deliberately – no-one is defrauding anyone. Tesco staff aren’t to know that, sure, but that doesn’t make this wrong.

    I’m just gutted that this has only recently come to my attention. I’m now paying my Sky bills using these cards, but I’d have gone all out if the National Savings avenue hadn’t been closed.

  5. rslicker says:

    I’d get in touch with my solicitor if this happened to me. The OP has a good case for damages in the civil courts at the very least.

    • Damages for what?? And they’ll be nominal if you can even make the claim stick. Capricious claims like this are the bane of the lower courts

      • Wonder if the OP did sue Tesco’s…could they ask for any damages to be paid in CC points 🙂

  6. This debate needs to be toned down now, all had our say Just continue to buy a few, maybe 6 max, when we see them, and use them where we know we can on bills, tax etc. Thus we all can continue to benefit from the free points. They are still a bonus, and we don’t want T to cancel the bonus points, ever!

    • Mr Bridge says:

      unfortunately, if Tesco are experiencing fraud, and this is a clearly a bungled attempt to te deal with it, you may find tesco withdraw all gift cards, save their own.

      Before there were large superstores, tesco managers were formally known as village idiots.

  7. If anyone is still in the game after this episode, there was about 20 3V cards in Leatherhead Tesco yesterday.

  8. Note that pressing Sub-Total after each card doesn’t activate them. The staffer needs to press Total for the activation to occur.

    But even if all cards are marked as activated, this doesn’t prevent the issue of some slips occasionally not printing out. Usually it will be three or a multiple of three, and will be cards one after each other.

  9. What's the Point says:

    Popped into a Tesco Extra and a Morrisons today, they were awash with 3V cards.
    I picked up £50 in each, just for old time’s sake!
    Not long before my 2013/2014 Council tax is paid off, wonder if I can pay 2014/2015 off before it has even started?
    May my NS&I account rest in peace.

  10. Mike Turnbull says:

    This reminds me of the old ‘Green Shield Stamps’ days….remember them ? When I was a young and ambitious salesman in the late 60’s, , the company I was with introduced a ridiculous incentive scheme along the lines of ‘sell x and get 50k, or y 100k’ and so on. To help the secretarial staff, we offered them 1 full book out of each 10 completed ! I remember well going down to the Green Shield shop in Shepherds Bush, armed regularly with stacks of books, (it was a great ‘free’ Christmas for the family !)….until the day came when I was asked to accompany a member of staff to the managers office, to ‘explain’ myself. After many phone calls to their HO and my office, and a double check with Ealing police station, I was sent on my way. It gave me great pleasure to return the next day for a couple of other items that were on the shopping list!
    ps As an aside, I was up in the loft over the weekend. ….Christmas decorations etc., and I came across a Green Shield remnant. A twin burner Camping Gaz camping stoved…still boxed and unused. Offers anybody ?

  11. Mr Bridge says:

    your probably right…but the fact remains that tesco acted in a manor that was unacceptable.

    maybe they were trained by Dubai police!!!

  12. No doubt Tesco haven’t handled this well but buying 14 cards in one pop is excessive – all bonus schemes (clubcard points and avios) have a degree of “spirit” involved. If a system is abused this is what can happen.

    • Why is it excessive? Bear in mind Morrisons Fuel Saver website states:
      “if you’re buying over £1000 of gift cards you’d be better to split your purchase into more than one transaction”

      Without any published restrictions, a £350 transaction in competitor Tescos seems reasonable. Especially since Tesco will make a profit from this transaction. The problem lies in the fact that Tesco’s activation system is apparently broken, but this isn’t something a customer should have to worry about.

  13. What's the Point says:

    The DEC charity website accepts 3V cards. So you can earn Avios and feel good about yourself!

  14. Feeling daft- please help. I thought I would buy 4 £25 3v cards to buy a kindle on Amazon.co.uk for my wife. However it won’t allow me to do it as I can only use 1 at a time. I’ve just had an online chat with Amazon and the person there says they don’t accept 3v cards!. Anyone got any ideas?

    • I believe you can use each 3V card to buy £25 of Amazon gift vouchers when you then add to your Amazon account and you can then use whatever balance you have against Amazon purchases.

  15. WARNING>>>

    For anyone who prepaid their Sky account using 3v cards, be careful as my Sky account shows a “credit card payment reversal” on 18th December for each of my recent overpayments (paid on 13th December)

    These £25 amounts do not yet show on my 3v account against the old card numbers so this is something I will need to keep my eye on to make sure they aren’t “lost” between Sky & 3v.

    If you did similar recently you may want to check your own accounts & keep an eye on your 3V accounts

    • same thing happened to me! lets hope these arrive back in the 3V account pretty quickly!