Manufactured Spending

Why I Won’t Share MS-friendly Locations Anymore

I attended FTU Seattle two weekends ago (I know, this post is late) and while I was there as a speaker, I learned a few things that have made me reconsider how I approach manufactured spending. Or, more accurately, how much I share with people. A year ago I briefly touched on the subject of safety while churning gift cards. At the time, I sort of dismissed possible safety issues because I wasn’t sharing my location…unless someone asked.

When I got into this hobby in the midst of the Vanilla Reload frenzy, a fellow blogger shared ms-friendly CVS locations with me. Without her tip, I probably would have given up on gift card churning. I don’t mind paying it forward. But after what I heard, I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to share ms hotspots with other people.

During the event, I heard rumblings of robberies. These rumors were partly confirmed by Mike Graziano, who told me about a guy who was robbed of $30,000 worth of money orders in the parking lot of a US Post Office. Another person told me about a guy who got robbed outside of a Simon Mall. All of this makes me think twice about sharing where I buy and liquidate gift cards.

Purse full of Visa gift cards
My purse during holiday/gift card churning season

When I asked my local Walmart cashier the other day whether their parking lot had any cameras, she told me they did. However, an 80 year-old woman was robbed at gunpoint at a nearby ATM a few weeks ago. In broad daylight. Some criminals obviously aren’t deterred by cameras catching them in the act. She did kindly offer to walk me to my car going forward, but unless she’s going out there armed, I don’t know that it would make a difference.

At FTU, someone mentioned “being aware of your surroundings” but what does that even mean? Yes, I pay attention to the people nearby. But I can’t tell a potential criminal apart form a normal Walmart shopper (no shade intended). I’ll try to make sure no one is following me. The parking lot is usually packed with people and I always park close to the entrance, so that helps. But more importantly, I need to make sure I’m not visiting these stores at the same exact time/day or sharing my location with others.

Another thing we should all be doing is keeping our receipts separate from our money orders. That way, if someone does manage to snag that Simon Mall plastic bag, at least you have the receipts. A few years ago, my aunt was in a Walmart parking lot, loading her bags in the car. Someone stole her purse from the cart, which included a $300 money order she had purchased with a debit card.

She walked back in the store to report it and then alerted her bank. Eventually, she got the funds back, but I don’t know if it was by her bank or Walmart. I also don’t know if that would be possible on a ~$10,000 purchase broken up into five transactions and 20 Visa gift cards. But regardless, having proof of purchase can only help.

Anyway, not to turn this into a true crime piece post, but we should all be more careful when buying or liquidating gift cards. People have been robbed in the process and it makes sense because we’re easy targets. Be careful, put your personal safety above all else and have a back up plan in case something does happen.

Me? I think I’m going to hold off on sharing ms hotspots with people I don’t know. I know that’s going to be disappointing to some , but there are ill-intentioned people out there who could use that information to target me as well as other MS’ers who regularly go to those places.

What are you doing to stay safe while carrying around large amounts of gift cards and money orders?

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  1. dam =\ scary stories

  2. 2nd amendment right + CCW = The protection that cameras or a 5-10 minute police wait cannot provide.

    MMS is a business for those who do it & carrying large sums of funds should allow most to qualify for a CCW in restrictive communities.

    I don’t mean to start a 2nd amendment debate here but it is an option for consideration. There are of course other forms of less lethal protection that can be considered/utilized (ex taser, mace/pepper spray, knife, personal defense training, etc). You could even consider getting a body cam, like those worn by the police to help catch the bad guy in the end.

    Bottom line, there are some logical options some should consider to address this very valid concern you wrote about.

    If you go with a personal firearm option, please, please, please spend the time on training (it will save your life). The NRA (again, not here to defend/debate) hosts safety classes for low or no cost in most locations- you’ll find your friends, neighbors at these classes, incl, teachers, doctors, shop clerks, grandmothers, etc there with you.

    • Most MS folks are not poor. It takes good credit, access to funds for liquidity and float. That said, recommending to others that the course of action is to carry a gun (and I assume use it if a robbery starts happening) is a sure fire recipe for you to either a) shoot and wound and kill someone b) get shot or killed yourself. If you shoot and wound or kill someone, get ready for media coverage, light shined onto your MS for reasons of carrying 30k of money orders, almost certain litigation where the fact you are not poor is taken as an open invitation to sue you for your personal assets or more likely access to your insurance policy or the walmart policy with you a named defendant.Lastly you might have to live with the fact you killed someone, which is more trauma than any MS is worth imo.

      The better course of action imo is to fill out money orders at walmart, tear off receipts and put them in different area. put money orders in wallet. If robbery happens take out wallet and toss one direction, you run the other way back into store. take receipts and go to money center to void money orders and start the process to get money back.

    • I’m not comfortable with carrying a weapon over this. It’s a huge responsibility and I don’t really have the time to devote to training and all that goes into it. But I may have a can of pepper spray from college I’ll start carrying around with me…

  3. I walk into the WM with 4 VGC in my pocket, and walk out with $2K in my pocket. I feel that limits me to a $2K loss at most. I probably should only walk in with my DL and one CC too, instead of a wallet full of CC’s.

    When need to activate the cards, I will generally sit far out in the parking lot where no one will pull up next to me and see what I am doing. I also try to avoid the multiple lanes and alot of people at WM.

  4. Yes, that’s all true and a good warning, but what does it have to do with sharing locations?? I doubt your fellow MSers would rob each other in WM parking lots. And it’s a safe bet to say that those who do rob people at gun points have very little interest in MS and in blogs like this.
    I would totally understand though if you say you are not sharing locations to minimize competition

  5. @Andy – because she’s already had stalkers. I wouldn’t share that info either.

  6. Until I see an actual police report this these stories are on the level of razor blades in the Halloween candy for me. No question you should be careful or at least not stupid but there are a lot of trolls in this hobby trying everything they can to discourage MS.

    • I agree – there are definitely people (including ones who leave comments on this blog) who provide false info in order to deter people from MS. But these stories came from reliable sources, so I have reason to believe they’re true.

  7. I totally feel you, and I always tear the receipt part of the MO before walking out my local Walmart and put them in a separate spot from the MO, that’s the least I can do just in case. I thought of applying for CCW, but here in MD, unless you are a legit business with frequent cash transactions, it’s almost impossible.

    • Good tip about tearing off the receipt portion of the MO and keeping it in a separate place from the actual MO itself. I only do a $500 MO at a time, so I won’t be in financial devastation mode, but these are good reminders.

  8. Other MSers might be the cause of those robberies, but what about the employees of the stores? If the same people come in every week carrying thousands of dollars worth of GCs or money orders, it’s not hard to imagine that a Walmart employee told a thief to stop by on a certain day at a certain time to swipe the money while the MSer is walking to their car.

  9. I refuse to use the Simon gift card bags. That seems like an advertisement to me (to thieves).
    I have a separate MS wallet, and try to keep looking around as I walk from/to my car. A jacket with an inside pocket would be good as well. I have often worried about getting robbed, and I have tried to think ahead of what actions I could take if that happened.

  10. There are thugs and there are good people out there. It’s best to be aware of everything when you’re dealing with anything related to your personal information(DL#, CC’s) as well as how much you carry in GCs when you are anywhere. By being in the MS game you take risk not only with how much you’re willing to spend but how much you’re willing to loose or have stolen. Personally I hope I never have to deal with theft other than those stupid Fraud reports I’ve had to fill out a couple times now due to someone compromising the GC at Ralphs and draining it before I can churn it.

  11. Mr Shirts

    You could just move to Texas…less robberies and armed citizens

  12. Off topic. Has anyone used “shop thru chase” or ebates to try and get 2% cash back using Office Depot or staples to buy VGCs with chase ink? I know it says in the fine print no GCs but I thought this might be an alternative to some of the other websites.

  13. First off, I am happy no one on this blog has been robbed while doing MS work. Secondly, Amazon carries a large assortment of tasers and pepper spray for very cheap which I would recommend as a minimum self defense tool for anyone who is vulnerable. A little bit of street smarts can go a long way as well. If you have to go to a bad area for this, try and do it during the day at least.

    Concealed carry doesn’t require a permit in my area but I never think of carrying because violent crime is extremely low. I personally wouldn’t let any licensing issues deter me from protecting myself going into a bad area, I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

  14. Pingback: From Around the Web: Airbnb Takes a Shot at Expedia, The Dangers of MS, SPG Backtracks on Category Changes & More! - Miles to Memories

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