Have I been scammed?
January 22, 2019 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Did I make a mistake in buying a prepaid Visa card for someone asking for change?

This morning, I gave a dollar to man outside a pharmacy asking for change. We started talking and he asked me to buy him a prepaid Visa card inside for $25. It's not a huge amount of money for me, and I was feeling generous, so I did it. Afterward I Googled a bit and it looks like Prepaid credit cards are frequently used by scammers and money launderers, but nothing I've read looks like anything that would have been happening here.

Is there anything that can be done with a prepaid Visa, bought with my credit card, beyond spending the $25 that's on it? Is there anything I should be looking out for?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not 100% sure but there is this from MN Attorney General's website.

If you are worried why not just request a new credit card?
posted by ian1977 at 2:27 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about it. You could have purchased it anonymously with cash.
posted by bigplugin at 2:27 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]

He would have to have access to your credit card to be able to use it to add more money to the prepaid card. The only money he has gotten from you is the money you already put on the card.

If he does not have a bank account, which may be the case for someone without a permanent or fixed residence/address, the prepaid card is a way for him to securely store cash. This is a good thing for him and a good way to help him out.

You did a kind thing, and it does not sound like you were scammed.
posted by nightrecordings at 2:32 PM on January 22 [61 favorites]

Yeah I wouldn't worry about this. Cash doesn't work for everything, cash is hard to keep track of, a wad of small bills and change can be embarassing to dig through at the counter. Prepaid visa cards are genuinely useful for homeless and other down-and-out folks who don't have access to banking services. That sounds like what this was.

If it was a scam, then what scam? What would be the end goal?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:33 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]

That prepaid card has no connection to the card you bought it with.

The benefit of the prepaid card over cash, to him, is that it lets him do something that normally requires a credit card, like take an Uber or buy something online.
posted by w0mbat at 2:35 PM on January 22 [15 favorites]

That and they're protected by a PIN, making them less desirable to thieves.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:39 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]

Here is a thought: very few drug dealers take credit card.

If this person is in addiction recovery, you have given him a way to purchase food and necessities in a way that doesn't give him the option of purchasing drugs he's trying to avoid.

(I don't see any alarm bells here and I'm a suspicious, hateful person.)
posted by phunniemee at 2:49 PM on January 22 [57 favorites]

We have a few homeless people who come into the library with gift cards to pay cellphone bills.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:00 PM on January 22 [10 favorites]

My guess is that he wanted to to pay for something online.
posted by Grandysaur at 3:10 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]

I have been a homeless addict, and I wanted to thank you for your kindness and add to the chorus of responders who suggest he probably just wanted to buy something for which he couldn't use cash.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 3:37 PM on January 22 [39 favorites]

Nthing that it's probably for cell phone payments. The worst case scenario is that he tries to sell it to someone for $20 in cash and buys drugs with it, but you might as well have some faith in humanity and think of it as helping him stay in communication with the world.
posted by Candleman at 4:35 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]

>worst case scenario is that he tries to sell it to someone for $20 in cash and buys drugs with it

If this is what happens, rest assured that he needed the drugs and had no other options. It might not be how you would ideally spend your money, but your generosity kept him from suffering for a few hours. Being addicted and living on the street is a terrible existence and any respite from withdrawal is welcome.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 5:18 PM on January 22 [25 favorites]

The reason prepaid cards are so strongly associated with scams is because they're effectively an irreversible way to transfer money. If you give someone a prepaid card as payment for goods or services, and later realize you got scammed, there's nothing you can do. (Even if you have the card number, by the time you try to do anything about it, the money has probably already been drained in an effectively untraceable way.)

If you didn't plan to try to get the money back anyway, there's no issue.
posted by teraflop at 5:27 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]

Not 100% sure but there is this from MN Attorney General's website.

Seems like all those scams listed apply to people who use prepaid cards for their own purposes, and don't realize that the number is unsecured and is just as good as cash. So, someone can drain the card, or if the owner doesn't get the service they're expecting after paying for something, they have no way to get the money back.

In other words, you're safe here. That card is gone, but it wasn't tied to you in any way in the first place.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:56 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]

Yeah, another ex-homeless from before the time of pre-paid cards. I wish we had them then, it would be an easier way to get funds from worried people who would help "BUT". You helped, and talked and seemed to want to help more... the pre-paid card was just a way to ease your conscience about your donation. As long as the privacy/fraud things work out... bum had a good day getting $25 that is relatively safe from theft from the PIN and can be used anywhere for anything. And there's no change and bills to worry about. The worst I see is it's a PITA when that card is down to like 99ยข... it's hard to aggregate those funds.

This to me is along the lines of "buy me dinner" or "I could really use some batteries, some more aspirin, some tampons for my SO", etc. Replaced with just give me a $25 pre-paid that I can shop with.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:38 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]

You got the opposite of scammed: you did a kind thing for a stranger and there's no way that it'll end up costing you more than the $25.
posted by klangklangston at 8:54 PM on January 25

Plus drugs are the one thing in the world that it's much easier to just buy with straight cash. It's much more likely, I think, that he wanted it for something like a cell phone bill that it's very hard if not impossible to pay cash for.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:39 PM on January 26

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