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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.

  • Marco says:

    This reminds me of my recent bad experience where I was “banned” from buying more 3V cards from the Tesco Extra in Newbury. I must be the only HFP reader in the Newbury area as the Newbury Tesco Extra (and occasionally the Newbury Superstore as well) have always had an abundance of 3V cards on the shelves at any one time. Unfortunately I got too greedy, buying too many cards at a time, and attracted the attention of the managers. Eventually I was pulled aside, interrogated about it and actually accused of fraud! The result is that I’ve been “blacklisted” and banned from future 3V purchases, with the warning that, were I to be caught buying 3V cards again, I would be banned altogether from shopping at the Newbury Extra. The managerial staff know my face now so that’s the end of the line for me!

    • Wibbling says:

      My other half is always saying it won’t be long before my mugshot is displayed in Tesco stores with a warning ‘do not sell gift cards to this man’ haha

      • Alan says:

        Lol I’ve been sticking to four at a time and not had any issues – thankfully there don’t appear to be too many other HFP readers in the area so there’s normally still some left when I return. On my last trip I got a whole chunk of food for free too thanks to Christmas and helping hand vouchers 🙂 Shame about NS&I but will pay off some more power/Sky bills then get some Amazon purchases made.

    • Mr Bridge says:

      of course, legally tesco do not have to sell you anything.
      having an item on their selves is an offer to sell at that price, however they do not have to sell if they chose not to.

  • Wibbling says:

    Respect to David for not losing it, not sure I would have been so restrained.

    Whilst I appreciate stores are nervous about credit card fraud and T should not be allowed to get away with treating customers like this (personally I’d be foaming at the mouth for blood), there’s always the risk in pushing too hard for recompense, apology etc that Mr T will just get wise and kill the gift card points promo we’ve been enjoying this last year. Just saying…

  • david gibson says:

    But do you still get the bonus cc points if you buy £50 worth of giftcards?

    • TimS says:

      Yes the 150 cc points are per £50 of gift card spend. The extra 100 cc point vouchers in the magazine at the moment are 100 points per £20+ gift card.

  • kh2040 says:

    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.

  • takke says:

    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?

    • Tim says:

      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

  • Tony says:

    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.

    • Keiths says:

      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.

    • Ralph says:

      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.

      • Rob says:

        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.

  • Graeme says:

    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.

  • 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.

    • Josh says:

      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

      • Ray says:

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

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