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

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This article 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.


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Comments (64)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • callum says:

    If head office aren’t very forthcoming I’d recommend using their facebook page. Unsurprisingly, they’re far more eager to solve customer complaints when the public can see them and how they’re handled!

  • Ian says:

    You’d hope tesco would compensate him but they’ll probably pull his clubcard.

  • Calchas says:

    It would be helpful if you printed the flagged card numbers so we know if we should expect to be pulled aside!

  • SouthernEM says:

    Tesco is horrible for these kind of things. They handle security very badly. I had a problem in the summer when their self service till (imposed because they had no cashier served tills open). A boy started to look in my bag insisting my handbag had stashed shoplifted products. I told him stay out of my handbag. When I complained on the second occasion this happened, head office customer service were rude and have yet to have anyone apologise or return to me. They just don’t care. Don’t hold your breath.

    • Mr Bridge says:

      there is no legal obligation to allow store staff to search your bags, or even for you to produce your receipt, although, be cautious as you may get barred from tesco..

  • Danksy says:

    I had a bad experience a few weeks back in tesco too! I was stopped by the till operator who called over her team lead. I had to prove who I was … I showed my handful of credit cards and said if they checked my clubcard number out they’d be able to validate my id.

    They wanted to take a copy of my credit card and driving licence or otherwise confiscate my haul of 3v cards and credit card.

    I said they could have the 3v cards back if they gave me a refund but they could whistle Dixie if they thought they’d be getting a copy if my personal derails.

    The manager came and started to note down my credit card number and photo card details (which the team leader gave him) I threatened them with a report to the information commissioners office if they did this.

    Eventually I left but was told I wasn’t welcome in their store any longer! Luckily it was a store I used on rotation to grab a handful of cards each week, so it doesn’t bother me.

    I had the following response from tesco customer services …

    Subject:Re your recent enquiry
    From: customer.service@tesco.co.uk
    To: danksy
    Date: Mon, 2 Dec 2013 13:53:06 +0000

    Dear Danksy,

    Thank you for your reply.
    Jean is not available at the moment, however I can gladly answer on her behalf to save any delay. I appreciate you taking the time to contact us regarding your experience when purchasing Visa Gift Cards.
    We have only recently started taking customers details when purchasing these cards as a security measure. However, I would like to assure you this information is kept secure in the stores Cash Office.
    I do hope you find my response helpful and thank you very much for bringing this to our attention. Your feedback will always be appreciated, so please do not hesitate to contact us again if you feel we can help in any way.

    Kind regards

    Sharon Donnelly
    Tesco Customer Service

    ……………… Original Message ………………

    To: customer.service@tesco.co.uk
    From: Danksy
    Received: 30/11/2013

    Subject: Re your recent enquiry

    Dear Sirs,
    I had the humiliation today of being asked to leave my Name and Address, and proof of Identity when I purchased 10 3v giftcards at the Bristol Extra store.
    I find this totally unacceptable.
    Please could you confirm if this was a mistake, or if you are indeed intent of checking ID’s before 3v visa gift cards are purchased?

    • Mr Bridge says:

      no no no, data protection, tesco can not store your data without your consent.

    • Nick says:

      That is absolutely shocking. They are breaking data protection legislation, and what is more, they are emailing you to confirm that this is what they are doing!

  • Wozza2404 says:

    I always thought if a shop detains you against your will and it transpires you have done nothing wrong, you can legally make things very uncomfortable for them afterwards?

    • Mr Bridge says:

      its false imprisonment see my full post at the further down the page

    • callum says:

      They have the right to detain anyone they suspect of fraud or theft while they wait for the police, just like you and I do.

      They also have every right to request your personal details as a condition of sale. They obviously cannot retroactively demand you give them though.

  • Neil says:

    I’d take this story to the press – what a shambles Tesco can be – they’ve totally lost the plot these days

  • Rich says:

    I’ve had an issue where they insisted on calling Amex and it took nearly an hour, but I also know someone who has had much more of an issue with cards not activating but Tesco trying to charge for them- bizarrely on one occasion the till spit out 2 activation slips with exactly the same number on.
    I know this shouldnt be possible but it has happened.

    As they say, stay safe out there….

    • CV says:

      I also had one card which was scanned twice by accident and activated twice (2 slips with same number), which should be impossible – by that point i had paid for it.

      After half an hour at Customer Services during the lunch time rush of complaints and various phone calls within Tesco, none of which were any help, they decided to authorise an ‘extra’ card for me to make up for having paid twice for one card already. Was in good faith, but took a long time to get there – they refused to do refunds on git cards.

    • TimS says:

      I had one instance were the same card was scanned twice and 2 successful activation slips produced for the same card.

      Thankfully the customer services person was near to the till when i paid for the cards and had seen the till operator having problems at the time so was able to sort it out relatively quickly.

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