A Tale of Two Purchases, a Milenomics Fairy Tale

We’ve talked about retraining your brain before in Milenomics.  In a way this is the first in a post exploring the Philosophy of Milenomics. My philosophy, with respect to just about everything, is to try to see things from someone else’s point of view. When I interact with  someone it is beneficial for you to think how that person perceives you, and not how you perceive yourself.

When I walk into a store to buy GDMP, or GC, or anything cash equivalent; I need to think what the person behind the counter is thinking. Let’s explore how things might appear from both sides, in a little story I like to call, A Tale of Two Purchases:

Story #1 — Your Point of View

It was the first of October, and you really needed to reload your point balances. You’re using the leapfrog method to fill up your next international program, and you’re looking to earn some miles here at the grocery store since there is a great deal going on. Also you’ll earn 2x miles with my Amex PRG card.

Walking into the store you grab 6 reload able visa cards and approach the first cashier you see, John. John seems pleasant and you tell him you’d like to ring the cards up for $500 each. Before you even finish saying this he looks up at you, back at the cards and then says the phrase that sets you off better than any other: “how were you going to pay for this?”

The way he looked at you and then the cards had you a little upset, but his question has you worked up. Obviously you’re looking to use credit, so you quickly tell him that, to which he replies “these are cash or debit only,”

“But I always buy these with credit, can’t you just try? “

“I’m sorry but the policy is cash or debit only.”

“I know you’re lying. Where is the manager? I’d like to talk to her immediately”

The manager is called over, briefed on the intended purchases and stone cold looks you in the eye and says that she’s not going to allow the purchase. If you have further questions you can call corporate and they can better explain it to you.  Your reply is “I know my rights, and if you accept credit cards your merchant agreement states that you have to accept cards for all purchases.  I’ll be calling Visa and MC.”  They all look at you like you’re from another planet, and tell you there’s nothing more they can do, and you’ll have to leave. 

Now you’re steamed. You decide to go next door to Rite-Aid, not to cool off with their wonderful ice cream, rather to try to recover and earn some miles from the 20 mile drive. You approach the register with multiple Green Dot Money Packs and you’re in no mood for small talk. You inform the cashier that you’re looking to buy four of them at $500 each. She’s just a teenager, and nervously looks at the front and back of each card… You’re unsure how she’ll proceed.

The next 6 words strike like daggers in your heart… “I have to ask my manager.”  Needless to say you leave empty handed, and have a 20 minute drive home to sulk about it.[rule]Now let’s look at this same experience from the other person’s point of view.  When I do this I try to make it as negative as possible so as to not underestimate the reaction I’ll receive.

Story #2: John’s Story

It was the Worst of October. John was working an 8 hour shift on a busy 1st of the month. He hated working on the first as it was nonstop people, nonstop questions.  Twice his till had been short on the 1st, he still isn’t sure how that happened but the second time he covered it with his own money, since he didn’t want two strikes against him.  He made sure he was always on guard the first few days of the month.

John noticed a new face, someone he hadn’t ever seen before at the store. You’d be surprised how regular grocery store customers are. Mrs. Miller always came in on Thursdays, and her daughter would dart in during the week to get odds and ends. Sure the store was in a busy part of a busy town, but John always said “people have to eat” and they usually visit the store pretty regularly.

The line of customers started to back up, and John noticed this new face was in his line. “no groceries?” he thought to himself… “That’s odd, maybe he’s buying a candy bar and I didn’t see it,” John told himself while he rang up the little old lady’s groceries.  “Any help out ma’am?” He asked, secretly hoping she’d say no.  They were short staffed enough, and he couldn’t lose his bagger and hope to keep his line down. 

“No thank you, not this time John,” The little old lady replied.  John turned and saw the new face, staring back at him. 

“Hi, I want to buy these 6 gift cards, I’d like $500 on each one, please split them into two transactions, these three first, and then these three.” 

John stopped for a second.  He instantly noticed that the man buying the cards hadn’t smiled, hadn’t even said hello.  In a split second John added up the purchase in his head–over $3000.  John’s nerves set in; he hadn’t ever seen anyone buy one of these rip off gift cards, let alone 6, at the maximum value. “Who would buy these?” John thought to himself, you waste $6 just buying the card.  

John thought back to his early training in which he was told by his manager. “If something seems fishy, it probably is.”  The extent of that was usually a couple of kids with fake IDs, or someone changing the price on a package of meat.  But something about this transaction didn’t pass his internal sniff test.  “How are you going to be paying for these?” John asked.  He didn’t really know how to proceed; if the customer said Cash he was pretty sure the money was going to be fake. 

“Credit Card.” Said the customer, looking more and more agitated as the seconds ticked off. 

John felt relieved.  He had an out. “Sorry sir, these are cash or debit only.” Knowing full well that if the man said fine, and tried to pay with debit or cash John was going to have to get his manager involved.  It was too much money, and too strange of a situation.   When the customer pushed back John dug in. 

“I’m sorry, our policy is Cash or Debit only.” 

“I know you’re lying” the customer replied.  John stood firm, and was actually relieved when the man insisted on speaking to the manager. 

Carla came over and John caught her up to speed.  She could see John was nervous, and the customer seemed agitated.  In these situations her training taught her the best thing to do is get the customer out of the store, as quickly as possible. 

“I’m sorry sir, I’m not going to be able to sell these to you, it is our store’s policy.”  The customer then rattled off something about Visa and Mastercard, and Carla really had no idea what he was talking about.  Thankfully he left.  Carla remembered a somewhat similar incident where the customer kept going from cash register to cash register trying to buy a $500 gift card.  The police eventually came and found that the man was using a stolen credit card.  They explained to Carla how the scam worked, but honestly she didn’t remember the details, she’d rather just sell groceries than deal with these crazies. 

Jenny’s Story

Jenny had just started at Rite-Aid a few weeks earlier, and for her the job was boring, but the hours were flexible.  She usually saw the same people, buying candy and soda, toiletries.  But today she was approached by a man she’d never seen, with a product she didn’t know they even sold.  At least she’d never seen these cards before.  Picking one up she noticed the customer was looking around the store, and just seemed to be acting weird. 

He asked her to put $500 on each card, something she just wasn’t familiar with.  Jenny nervously flipped the cards over looking for some type of instructions on how to ring them up, but saw none.  She didn’t think anything of the purchase, but honestly didn’t know what to do.  She decided the quickest solution for every party involved was to ask her manager.  What she didn’t expect was the customer’s reaction when she said that.  

“Do you have to get your manager involved?” the man asked. Now she knew she was going to let the manager deal with it.

“I wasn’t worried about this guy before saying that, but now I am,” she told herself.  When her manager came over she was going to let him deal with the customer.  When he arrived she asked him to ring the customer up, because she wasn’t sure how to do so. 

“These are cash and debit only, you know that right?” the Manager asked the customer… As the customer stormed off the manager let the cashier know that lots of drug dealers use these cards so they don’t have to carry cash on them.  He told her to only ring them up for small amounts without calling him, and only cash and debit card.[rule]Now I realize these two stories were total opposites of each other–and we’re all too smart to fall into these types of hyperbole.  But the lesson to be learned is simple; your first impression is going to go a long way.  The majority of stores we do our MMRs at aren’t focused on selling gift cards or reloads.  They’re either groceries, drugstores, or office supply stores.  They see two types of customers: regular, average ones, and suspicious ones.  You want to make yourself appear as regular as possible. I’ll get the following three statements out of the way in case you’re wondering:

  • Yes, you’re doing nothing wrong.
  • Yes, you’re using your own credit card.
  • Yes, they’re technically lying when they tell you cash or debit only.

But remember, the more you try to convince them you’re not a conman, thief, or drug dealer, the less it is going to work.  The items we purchase are used by all three.  F2B blogger Mark @ travelblawg wrote about an FBI warning regarding Green Dot MoneyPacks. This is just one such story. The purchase of large amounts of cash equivalents is exactly the type of activity that raises red flags.

Does This Mean Game Over?

No, this doesn’t mean game over, what this does mean is that if you’re just starting out you need to start building a relationship first.  Think about this: You’re asking the cashier to trust you that you’re the person you say you are, and that you aren’t scamming the store.  If reading that sentence upsets you; I’m sorry.  The fact of the matter is that you know you’re up to nothing but miles & points churning–but to an average person they’ve never heard of that.  They only know what they’ve read about scams, and had their manager grill them on not letting anything fishy go on.

We’ve covered techniques to become more trustworthy here and here–such as starting with smaller dollar amounts.  For the current Safeway promo there’s no harm in buying $100 cards.  Or start with Gift Cards to your favorite restaurant or gas station. Learn who your trustworthy cashiers are, and engage them.  Slowly work your way up to those $498.11 cards–another tip from our MMRs; stay away from whole numbers.

Sure it is possible to hit a random store and have them sell you $5,000 worth of VR.  In fact the new CVS policy requiring ID scans over $1k is good for purchases.  You’ve got a friend in the cashier who follows that procedure.  And you have nothing to hide.

I wish scammers didn’t use our techniques, as they, and not bloggers, are the ones who really kill deals.  Burning a store for $1,000 via a stolen credit card is the fastest way to make them stop taking Credit for large purchases.

Tomorrow we’ll be back to real life, sorry if the fairy tale seemed like more of a nightmare ;)[rule]