Another Cautionary Tale about US Bank Issued Visa Gift Cards Sold at Ralph’s in SoCal

Good afternoon everyone.  A few months ago on Mother’s Day, I went to Ralph’s in Huntington Beach to buy a Visa Gift Card (for myself, sorry mom).  After purchasing a tampered Visa Gift Card, I wrote PSA: Don’t Buy US Bank Visa Gift Cards from Ralphs / Kroger (GC Numbers Compromised).  In that post, I swore never to buy another Visa or MasterCard Gift Card from a grocery store.  The amount of cash back or miles/points gained is not enough to offset the headache required to get 1 tampered Visa or MasterCard Gift Card issue resolved.  I have stuck to my word and not broken the promise I made to myself.

Ralphs $500 Gift Cards

A friend of mine from SoCal shared his experience dealing with Visa Gift Card scammers…

Just wanted to share some more info about ANOTHER gift card scam that happened to me (in Ralph’s again!  Goodness gracious.)

If you remember from a couple months ago, I emailed you about the tampered US Bank Visa Gift Card packaging, where it was pretty apparent, upon very close observation, that the gift card packaging had been tampered with.

8/18: I bought TWO $500 US Bank Visa Gift Cards.  I inspected the packaging very carefully and they were PERFECT.  No sign of being touched or tampered with.  After purchase and activation, there was a strange problem – I couldn’t change the pin number.  I went back to Ralph’s that same day to have them call US Bank to confirm the purchase and make sure there wasn’t activation issues from Ralph’s end.  The Visa Gift Cards were then activated.  I then changed the pin number successfully.

8/19: When I went to Walmart to load my Bluebird card, the error message “tender not accepted” appeared several times.  Right there and then, I called Visa to see what was going on; they said the “pin was locked out” or something and they had to reset it but the funds were fine.  I then tried to load them to my Bluebird card again, but I still couldn’t reload my Bluebird card.  I was frustrated because now I didn’t know what to do with the cards.  When I called the 1-800 number on the back of the Visa Gift Card, I still had a $500 balance on each Visa Gift Card.

8/25: I finally had a chance to return to Walmart, but my Bluebird card reload was STILL being denied.  I then called to check the gift cards – the balances were now DRAINED.  I called US Bank and they told me that one one of the $500 cards had been charged to ZARA USA (a clothing company), multiple charges were made to Amazon.com, and a lot of businesses in the Garden Grove area (e.g. 7-11, Walmart, Toyota, etc.).  I checked the gift card balance and recent activity on mygiftcardsite.com and saw that the Visa Gift Card had been registered to someone in Garden Grove’s (probably a fake alias) and all of the corresponding charges were listed.  Within 2 days, the scammer had drained the funds completely.  I had to fax a dozen pages of receipts, copies of the cards, disputes of charges, etc. and will need to wait a few weeks minimum before I get new cards issued back to me.

Fraudulent VGC Address Fraudulent VGC Transactions

I had kept the packaging for the cards, and only after all this had happened, I had a chance to go back and look very carefully at the packaging.  Again, even though the exterior packaging was literally PERFECT, when I slipped open the side seams, I noticed that there was some funky glue residue on the left seam that seemed unnaturally placed there.  Now, of course, this is different than last time, where there was some faint color difference on the outside of the packaging.  You can’t tell from the image because I’ve torn the packaging apart, but it was literally PERFECT when I purchased it (I always take a very careful feel and look at it).  This is a cautionary tale to people out there – scammers are getting better at sealing up packages so there is LITERALLY no way to tell that they’ve been used, unless you rip the side of the packaging open.

Tampered Visa GIft Card Packaging Ralphs

On a side note, I went to the police dept and they said I could file a police report, but that this stuff happens so frequently, that it was honestly probably not gonna go anywhere.

I am really sorry that this happened to my friend and dealing with the gift card issuer can be equally exhausting.  As long as you continue to purchase Visa or MasterCard Gift Cards in grocery stores (or other merchants), you run the risk of having a similar issue.  I’ve started purchasing a lot of Visa Gift Cards online (Staples.com and other merchants) and I have not had any problems.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.  Have a great day everyone.

69 thoughts on “Another Cautionary Tale about US Bank Issued Visa Gift Cards Sold at Ralph’s in SoCal

  1. josh

    I’ve run into the broken PIN issue a few times. Its not scammer related. The phone reps are usually clueless about how to fix it so its typically easier to take the $5.95 hit and use it to buy a new gift card.

    I also don’t think the card packaging was the issue. Its pretty easy for scammers to guess at the account numbers and keep running tests. Because the numbers are roughly sequential and all have consistent EXP dates there’s little reason to go to the trouble of tampering with packaging.

    When they find a number that’s working, they create a clone and start draining the card. When your card is left open and sitting there, this becomes more likely. Because of the PIN issues, this card was left open longer than normal and probably got hit this way.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      That is very interesting, I never thought of that. I’ve never had a broken pin issue on any other gift cards so I’m not sure why it happens on US Bank Visa Gift Cards.

      Reply
      1. RL

        Had this issue once with the PIN no matter how many times or different PINs that was reset but the balance was all there when I called. So I made a small purchase at WM with this card as a debit, it went through and then it works when I tried to unload the rest of the card on BB. So the fraud might not be the packaging issue and probably what Josh mentioned.

        Reply
    2. Don

      I also had a compromised US Visa gift purchased at the Ralph’s in Oceanside CA. the manager would not do anything to help me,except for me to call the gift card people.It took me 5 months to get most of my $100.00 back! After being a Ralph’s shopper for over 40 years, I am done with Ralph’s!!!

      Reply
      1. Grant

        Yup, the experience is definitely not customer-friendly. I would continue to shop at Ralph’s just never buy a Visa or MasterCard gift card there.

        Reply
  2. chris

    When I buy a gift card from Ralph’s, I always drain it within an hour. If there is a problem with the card (whether activation or PIN related), then I’ll call the issuing bank and ask them to cancel the card and send me a replacement card. They may charge a few bucks but that’s better than risking a $500 loss.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      That is a good strategy but I had issues using the cards a few minutes after buying the VGC from Ralph’s. I will continue to stay away from those gift cards.

      Reply
      1. chris

        Well if I had issues a few minutes after buying, then I’d immediately call US Bank and ask them to send me a new card. As I said they charge a few bucks, but that is better than risking $500.

        That said, staying away from those gift cards is another way to eliminate the risk :)

        Reply
  3. g R

    I recently purchased two visa gift cards and had issues in loading one of them into bluebird. I changed the PIN and tried to unload and in between called the number mentioned on the card. After 4 unsuccessful attempts i decided to use The gift card to pay some bills which otherwise i could have paid using a credit card.

    I am not sure whether my card was also picked out by scammers but i don’t want that risk so i used the card within a week.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      I guess it is difficult to know if it is a gift card issue, a US Bank issue, or a scammer issue when the VGCs do not work properly. I’m glad you liquidated the card very quickly before anything bad happened.

      Reply
  4. Anonymous

    With USB VGCs I always call the number from parking lot after I leave the store. Verify the $500, & reset pin. Then I drive directly to WM to drain. Never had an issue.

    Reply
  5. Raul

    I too had my card compromised by scammers. I believe the cards are very easy to compromise since all u need to change pin is the card number and expiration date but not the 3 digit number in back of the card. All scammers need is random number generator and time. Ive also been having trouble unloading these cards using bluebird at walmart kiosk to the point that I’m switching over to serve to see if I have better luck unloading. I read somewhere that family dollar still sells the old version of serve. Anyone know if this is true?

    Reply
  6. CarlH

    Instead of US Bank, I have been purchasing the MetaBank cards at several grocery stores for quite a while. I am now seeing about 50% of the cards with tampering and the store managers I know are seeing the same thing. One important point, however, is that when MetaBank changed their designs recently, they also changed how they glue the cards into the packaging. The glue is so sloppy on genuine cards that it is now becoming hard to tell if tampering has occurred or not. It is only on the newly redesigned cards, but the quality control has dropped dramatically making it difficult to tell if tampering has occurred.

    Reply
  7. Malibu Miler

    Great post Grant, sorry for those involved with the scammers. It is a terrible experience.
    You are totally right, dealing with the card issuer to get a refund is exhausting. Can be long calls on hold, filling out forms, getting receipts to fax, and then a long waiting game. I am dealing with 4 $200 metabank Visa GC’s right now from a error on a void during a Target Redcard reload. 2 weeks in and the process is slowing moving forward. However, I have received some compensation after speaking to Target guest relations. This business has risks, we have to learn to minimize it.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Yes, risk mitigation is very important, especially when dealing with thousands of dollars in gift cards. Keep me posted on your Target/VGC issue.

      Reply
  8. Laura

    I second your stance. I’m never again buying GCs at Ralphs. I had a tampered card and the issue took 4 months to resolve. There’s a ton of fraud so the reps are inundated with requests and it’ll take months and months to get your money back. It’s definitely not worth it. Oh, and my card was drained minutes after I bought it.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Thank you for sharing your experience Laura. Even if you can drain 99 cards in under 10 minutes, that 100th card could be tampered/drained within a few minutes, causing months of work to get your money back. Definitely not worth it to me either.

      Reply
  9. Nick

    It is very interesting, reading the comments here. Apparently the scammers can just go into the store and legitimately buy a GC by U.S. bank. Then they would have a legitimate GC number sequence that they can run through some kind of number generator to come up with different possibilities. As stated by someone else, the expiration dates for the most part do not change, and the 3-digit code is NOT required to reset pin. Yes, these cards I’d imagine can be compromised! Proceed with caution and only buy if you plan to liquidate QUICKLY. You are on a race against time – against the scammer!

    Reply
  10. Miles per Day

    You know, when mine were drained, it was drained around in the OC area too (my cards were bought in WA). I wonder who’s doing this. Where are these cards produced and shipped out from? Sounds like there is a hole in the distribution system.

    Reply
  11. Mike W

    Gant, I just ran into something weirdly similar on a Ralph’s GC VGC purchase. Tried to load at Target and it told me the pin was wrong. Tried a couple of times to make sure I didn’t type it incorrectly before going back to my car to call and change the pin. I changed the pin over the phone and went pack in to try again. Still, not working. I then changed it back to the original last 4 digits. All of my other cards were draining so I know it wasn’t a target problem. I let it go for a couple of weeks as I got really busy and called the number on the card a couple of days ago. The woman was very unhelpful and relayed that my pin had only been changed once, an hour after I tried to run the card. I thought I had changed it twice, but the hour timeframe was really weird. It was like the pin change was delayed in their system. Anyway, long story short, I immediately changed it after my call to her and waited a day to return to target. Fortunately, yesterday I was able to drain it with no problems. Not sure what the issue really was, but something funky was going on for sure.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Hm, maybe the VGC issuer does not immediately process pin changes or maybe there is a limit to the number of pin changes per VGC. Glad you were successful in unloading your VGC.

      Reply
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  14. Tracy

    I bought 1 visa and 1 MC at Ralph in Santa Ana. First, I could not use the cards because they did not activate right. I had to fax receipt to USB to re- activate. 1 day later, both cards were drained out around the city. Report to USB, fax in affidavit form with police report # and wait for total 2mos, today I get credit back to the cards

    Reply
      1. Jayson

        Thanks! How much do you typically do with AFCU? Also, is the gift card mall better somehow then just the grocery store (minus the risk of getting a tampered card)?

        Reply
        1. Grant

          I purchase $2000 at a time for AFCU. GCM is a little more expensive (if you go through the old link and purchase a large quantity) but you can have them personalized and sent directly to your house, so you don’t need to make multiple trips to the grocery store (plus you avoid the hassles of tampered GCs).

          Reply
          1. Jayson

            Thanks, So are you able to go through the old link and shopping portal somehow to purchase? Or is it only possible to go through the shopping portal and get cashback by buying the $250 cards?

          2. Jayson

            Are you aware of any buying limits with giftcards.com as with free shipping codes and g-money that seems to be a very good option.

          3. Jayson

            That was $1500 or less to qualify for the free shipping. I just did x3 orders of $1500. Somewhere on flyertalk someone said they thought they had a $10k per month limit. After the g money and shipping code though it is a good option, was wondering if you knew if there was a max amount in time to purchase without getting banned.

          4. Jayson

            G money is through giftcards.com, it’s their rewards program.
            It give you 1% cashback in what they call g money. You can use on your next visa purchase. Basically with that and the free shipping, you end up with no fees.

  15. Alex

    I’m grants friend who sent him the story above …. From my perspective the package was def tampered with. I forgot to tell grant that the plastic card had some subtle scratches and signs of manipulation (not brand new and pristine like the hundreds of my prior cards had …)

    Weird to hear that the issue has occurred in states like WA etc …. Makes me also wonder if distribution scheme is going on. Crazy …..

    Has anyone ever experienced this w Metabank gift cards from grocery stores etc? I have mainly noticed this being a U.S. Bank issue….

    Reply
  16. Gary

    Hmm, when my identity was stolen about two years ago, the address that they used to apply for about five credit cards was also Garden Grove! Maybe there’s a fraud ring working out of GG.
    In my case, they actually arrested the guy! He was your typical GG resident. I can only assume that he just happened to be caught doing something else (worse), and got linked with the theft of my identity

    Reply
      1. alex

        on an unrelated note there was a guy who was going around stealing packages from the doorsteps of Irvine homes. He got caught and was from garden grove too.

        One of my favorite bands (back when I was in junior high / high school lol) wrote a song with that title : http://www.songplaces.com/Garden_Grove/Garden_Grove_California

        the above article about the song states “the rest of Garden Grove has degenerated over the years into an almost but not-quite slum. Gangs and drugs do indeed run rampant, and law enforcement is only able to curtail the activities so much.”

        I eat korean food there occasionally and it’s not that bad but yeah lotta illicit credit gift card fraud schemin’ going on there. oh well they’ll all get what’s coming to them hopefully someday ….

        Reply
  17. Nick

    There seems to be much fraud going on in that one general area of Cali. Possibly one of the people who supply/restock the gift cards at the individual stores is the likely culprit? Or maybe even the person higher up the chain. It is just too coincidental. Just my 2 cents.

    Reply
  18. Relyn

    Wish I had seen this warning before I purchased the gift card. Been hit with
    $200.00 , bought it at ralphs nov15, tried to use it nov 18 but was too late. Someone already did. Had to file a dispute, will take them 90 days to investigate. So disappointed with the merchant. Not very helpful.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Yea, the entire process is a big pain in the butt to deal with. I’m sorry your gift card was scammed. I wish US Bank could fix the problem with their gift cards but it looks like they don’t care.

      Reply
  19. Curtis

    And these cards STILL have problems. $500 MasterCard compromised from Kroger. I’m still fighting an issue with $116 left on one from back in AUGUST! PITA…

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      I’m sorry Curtis, it looks like nothing has changed since I first wrote this post. Keep following up with them to expedite the process.

      Reply
  20. benny

    Brought 4x$500 from Ralph’s in El Segundo. All of them are compromised. Customer service told me to go back to Ralph’s. This is gonna be fun, I hope I get my $2023+ back soon. I can’t believe how long this issue has been going on, and Ralph’s/Kroger/US Bank just keep letting it happen.

    Reply
  21. Julie

    Just happened to me at ralphs in oceanside. Bought $200 Visa gift card as a wedding present. They tried to use it and funds were gone. Back had been scratched off when they opened the card. ralph s would not do anything. I never knew this could happen. Now I’m going back they my credit card company to dispute the charge as I purchased the gift card with my credit card. Will never buy another gift card Ever!
    Unbelievable

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      I’m really sorry this happened to you. You did nothing wrong, it is Ralph / US Bank’s fault for allowing this to keep happening.

      Reply
  22. jenny jia

    This happened to me too.

    Tried to dispute it with my purchasing credit card’s bank and they refunded a temporary credit, only to retract it after Kroger(where I purchased the GC) sent them some unknown counter-refuting documents.

    And now I’m trying to take this to the “prepaid gift card” party that’s associated with the GC, and now I’ve got to wait up to 90 days…

    Honestly thinking if I should take this to Kroger directly or have the police involved so I can resolve my case earlier?

    Any tip and advice would be greatly appreciated!

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      I’m sorry this happened to you Jenny. This problem has been going on for several years and Kroger / Ralphs / US Bank do not seem to care. The process usually takes up to 90 days and I would keep detailed notes when you speak to the 3rd party company over the phone.

      Just curious, did you buy this from Southern California? How much was on your GC?

      Reply
  23. Swimmer

    I think the fraud is going on at U.S. Bank itself. Exactly 1 year ago (June 2018) I redeemed some U.S. Bank -issued Mastercard gift cards online. I never reported any fraud or had any issues. I had purchased them at different stores and different dates, ranging several months earlier. The money was still there when I went to register and use them. The next day, I received a UPS Express mailed letter addressed to the name and address I registered my cards to, and specifying those card numbers. It was a threatening sounding letter from a banker at U.S. Bank that demanded very invasive private information. They had emptied out my remaining balance on all the cards I registered and closed those accounts. I checked the info online, and there is indeed a banker at U.S. Bank with that name, and the phone number that the letter instructed me to call was indeed a valid U.S. Bank phone number. This was very off-putting, because I know for a fact that I bought them myself with my own credit card, and registered and redeemed them myself with no problems, and I definitely didn’t report any fraud on my own cards. The letter seemed to claim there was fraud/a crime involved. So either they duplicated the numbers and someone else reported the money emptied out on exactly the same day I happened to redeem them (EXTREMELY unlikely, although I immediately went online and did a search and happened to find a blog post dated that exact same day from someone saying all their cards were emptied out), OR there are shady people working at U.S. Bank phishing for personal info, which is what I’m now leaning towards. (Sometimes the people who strive to work at a bank are exactly the people you don’t want anywhere near your money).

    At first I thought it was a Mastercard issue because I seemed to have issues getting Mastercard gift cards to go through online or using PayPal, but since then I noticed all my stores have replaced the old U.S. Bank Mastercards with MetaBank Mastercards. Your post is all about U.S. Bank -issued Visas, so I’m thinking it was a U.S. Bank problem all along.

    P.S. I’m on the east coast. No Kroger or Ralphs here. I bought them at grocery stores local to the northeast. Maybe this is a different issue since I didn’t actually have any money stolen (except by U.S. Bank itself)

    Another note: I purchased them originally with my credit card that has a different billing address. No letter was ever received at my billing address. So the banker probably didn’t have access to the original form of payment used to buy these cards. The only notification I got was a letter to the name and address I registered the cards to (I purposely spell my name slightly different so if my info is sold to a third party, I know where the leak came from). Another possibility is they have weak website security allowing anyone to capture the info entered on their site, and then someone uses that info to try to file a false claim on “their” card.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      That is all very scary and concerning. I have never had that happen to me or heard of that issue from anyone before. Very strange. I’m not sure what you do from here, I wish I had some advice to share for your situation.

      Reply
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