Is the Vanilla Visa Gift Card a Scam? (My Experience)
What Is a Vanilla Visa Card?
A Vanilla Visa card is a prepaid card, which means that you load money onto it when you purchase it. It is sold as a gift card, though there are several types of these Vanilla cards, and some work like reloadable debit cards as well. This article focuses on the gift card type, which is sold in denominations ranging from $10 to $250+.
What Is It Used For?
- It allows you to make online purchases even if you don't have a debit or credit card.
- This card is accepted anywhere that Visa is accepted, so it allows you to give someone a gift card without having to choose just one retailer.
- You cannot spend more money than you've loaded onto the card, so you don't risk overdraft. This can help people curb their spending.
- Some parents use prepaid cards as "starter" cards for teens who are still learning how to use a credit or debit card responsibly.
But Is It Safe?
In my opinion, the Vanilla Visa gift card is a scam with many different components. Below are a few of the problems I had with this card.
Problems With the Vanilla Visa Prepaid Gift Card
- There is a 24-hour wait to use the cards online.
- Registration doesn't work.
- The website is not secure.
- Customer service is hard to contact.
There Is a 24-Hour Wait to Use the Cards Online
When you buy these cards and activate them (which requires a fee), you can’t immediately use them to make online purchases. You have to wait at least 24 hours before you can register them on the Vanilla Visa website, which must be done before you can use the card online. Even if the website "sees" the purchased amount for the activated gift card, you still cannot register it and use it until 24 hours have passed.
The card’s instructions say vendors may put a 24-hour hold on money, but there is no such warning in the instructions or on the vendor website stating that the card itself must be registered online. In fact, the website’s “important things to know” section says you can use the Vanilla Visa card immediately after purchase. This is not true for online purchases, though I don’t know if this is true for an in-person transaction. Given the poor customer service and general reputation of the company, I doubt it.
Registration Doesn't Work
At least, it never worked for me. For the first full day, any attempt to register my card by entering in my zip code and trying to proceed was denied. After buying two separate Vanilla Visa gift cards at the same time from the same store and making a dozen attempts to register them, I was never able to get a zip code associated with them—meaning I could never actually use them online as was my intent when they were purchased. (I never tried to use these gift cards as debit cards with a vendor.)
The Website Is Not Secure
Card registration issues are not the only problem with the website. I received a warning that the Vanilla Visa website has a broken HTTPS, as well as problems with its SHA-1 Certificate. The TLS connection was secure, according to my browser.
Customer Service Is Hard to Contact
I called customer service as soon as I was able to find a phone number for their customer service department—which was not easy. The phone number for Vanilla Visa support was only shown after I made multiple failed attempts to associate a zip code with my card. The difficulty of finding a good phone number for support is another strike against this Visa gift card. To help other frustrated customers, I'm including the number below.
Vanilla Visa Customer Support: 1-800-571-1376
Ultimately, I was never able to register my gift cards online through the website and had to call the Vanilla Visa phone number to get a zip code associated with my card. And even after I had my zip code associated with it per my conversation with customer service, it still didn’t work that day or the next.
Comparison to the American Express Gift Card
I also tried out an American Express prepaid gift card after giving up on the Vanilla Visa gift card. It has some similarities to the Vanilla Visa, but overall it was a much better experience for me. Here's how the two cards compared:
- Activation Fee: The American Express gift card had the same activation fee ($5.95 at the time) as the Vanilla Visa gift card for a $25 balance.
- Wait Time: The American Express card takes 30 minutes to activate after purchase. As soon as it activates, you can use it for purchases, including online purchases. I was able to use the card the same day I bought it, whereas after three days of trying and failing to use the Vanilla Visa cards, I gave up.
- Registration: You can use any zip code, including your home zip code, for the purchase without calling a phone number or giving away personal information.
Another Problem With Vanilla Visa Cards: Fraud and Scams
Gift cards are common targets for scams and fraud, and the Vanilla Visa cards are no exception. One reason for this is that gift cards are easy to tamper with, as this Consumer Reports article about gift card scams notes.
For example, bar codes can be covered up with stickers that show a different code, leading consumers to unsuspectingly load money straight onto a thief's card instead of their own. The silvery scratch-off substance that covers PIN numbers can also be bought in sticker form, so a thief could scratch it off, record card numbers and PIN numbers, then cover the PIN back up with a sticker, making it extremely hard for consumers to tell that the card has been compromised.
And those are just some of the issues with physical cards sold in stores. There are many other types of online and in-person scams that criminals use to try and gain access to the money on your Vanilla Visa card or other gift card.
Where Did My Money Go?
If you load money onto your card and later check the balance to find your money gone, it's possible that someone else had access to your card information via tampering or hacking. You may see a list of transactions on your card that you did not make, often PayPal transactions.
The Consumer Affairs page for Vanilla Visa gift cards shows numerous reports of this exact situation. It also shows numerous reports of the unhelpfulness of Vanilla Visa's customer service, so you may be out of luck on getting your money back.
How Can I Get My Money Back?
Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for that, or I'd have gotten my own money back. If a Vanilla Visa gift card is used fraudulently, the company has a bad reputation for not helping victims even after they provide a lot of information. You can contact customer support at 1-800-571-1376, but be careful about what information you share with them. There have been reports that the company demands copies of driver’s license pictures and other information that puts the victim at risk for identity theft. And you don’t want to share this information on their website since it's not secure.
If Vanilla Visa's customer support is not helpful, you might consider submitting a complaint against the company with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau. While this likely won't get your money back, it will help force the company to improve its services.
How to Recognize Common Scams
It's hard to spot a card that has been tampered with; the best prevention may be to avoid buying in-store gift cards, per Consumer Reports. But there are many other scams that you can protect yourself against by being aware of them. Awareness will help you make smart decisions about sharing your card information.
These are some examples of scams that readers shared with me. In these situations, scammers ask you to buy a Vanilla Visa card so you can receive some form of benefit—but you can be sure that all the benefit is going to the scammer.
Someone Offers to Give You Money
If my friend asks me to buy a Vanilla prepaid card so he can send me five hundred when I have the card, and he asks me to take a picture of the front and back of it, what should I do?
My daddy wants to give me $1,000. He said that I have to buy a Vanilla card and screenshot the front and back of the card and receipt. He said that I need $100 on that card because if it’s less than that, he can’t send the $1,000. Is it true?
If you buy a card and send the other party a picture of the front and back, they will get the card number and security code. They'll be able to drain money tied to the card. And they may not transfer any money to the card.
Someone Says You Won a Giveaway or Prize
I ran across a person that said they would send me $400 because of some charity giveaway from their church. They want me to buy a Vanilla card, activate it, and send them a picture of the receipt. Is it possible for someone to send money through the Vanilla card with this information?
I have a person saying they want to give me money—that it is a way for them to help people. They are telling me to go get a prepaid Visa card and they will help me put the money on it. Is there any money coming out of my pocket?
The "charity giveaway" like "you won a foreign lottery" is a common scam to steal your financial information. When you provide someone with your card's details—or when they "help" you put money on it—you're not providing them with a way to give you money; you're making it possible for them to take YOUR money.
Someone Offers to Overpay You
I have received a cashier's check for $1,815 and a request for me to buy $1,500 on OneVanilla gift cards. The difference of $300 is my payment for surveying the shop where I buy the gift cards. I do not want to accept this offer, so what should I do?
I sold a book on eBay, and the buyer asked to send me $200 more than the cost of the book so I would help him use a Vanilla Visa gift card. After that, I would send him back the $200 he paid extra. Is this ok? Do I have any risks involved?
No legitimate businesses (or legitimate customers) would make these types of requests. As Consumer Reports notes, scams like these might be part of a money-laundering operation.
Someone Wants to Pay You With Gift Cards
This scam is so common that the Federal Trade Commission has an entire page devoted to informing consumers about it. As the FTC succinctly says, "Gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always a scammer."
What Not to Do
- Never send someone photos of the front or back of your Vanilla Visa card. They can use that information to withdraw money from the card.
- Never send someone photos of the receipt for the card, either. It may show the full or partial card number.
- Never provide a person or a website with your personal information unless you are 100% sure it is safe.
- Never trust something that is too good to be true, like a gift card offered at a huge discount.
- Never buy a gift card in the hopes that someone will deposit money on it. They won't. Ever.
So, Is It a Scam?
While I and many others have had negative experiences with the Vanilla Visa gift cards, some customers have used them repeatedly without problems. This article is based on my experience. Other people have shared similar issues in the comments and in messages with me. However, you might have a different experience. Based on the few positive reviews I've seen, the company is capable of delivering the promised service once in a while.
Going back to the Consumer Affairs page for the Vanilla Visa gift card, it provides a telling picture of customers' overall experiences with these cards. Out of 200+ reviews in the past year, there were a few positive ones, but the company overwhelmingly received 1-star reviews (out of 5 stars) and has a 1-star satisfaction rating overall. It's notable that the site does not accept zero- or half-star reviews, so 1 is the lowest you can go.
Research Before You Buy
To make these cards worth buying, there need to be better security measures in place to protect the cards both during and after purchase. The immediate solution for consumers is not to buy Vanilla Visa gift cards. Instead, research your prepaid gift card options before you buy, because there are some that don't have these problems; for example, some are usable online or in person within hours of purchase. My advice is to buy a card with better security and customer service than this one.
- The Apple iTunes 866-712-7753 Scam
Scams are everywhere. This article discusses one that has affected many people: fraudulent charges that appear to come from the iTunes store but have nothing to do with Apple. Learn what to watch for on your credit card bill.
- Your Guide to 25 Fees That Prepaid Debit Cards Charge
If you're more interested in prepaid debit cards than gift cards and want to research your options, one thing to look into is their fees. This article discusses 25 prepaid debit card fees and how much you can expect to pay for different cards.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I had bought a vanilla gift card from a CVS pharmacy store of $25 but when I went home I tried buying something online but it didn't let me, so I waited for 24 hrs to try again but it still didn't let me. Then I checked my transactions, and it says I have $0 in my card and that the money had gone to a PayPal account. What do I do?
It sounds like someone has already used the card. You can't really do anything about it, since the issuing company doesn't care. You can try to print the records and go back to CVS to beg for a refund, assuming the transaction log shows that the transfer to Paypal happened before you bought the card. If the transfer is listed as happening after you bought the card, they'll say you already moved the money and there is nothing to do.Helpful 55
If my friend asks me to buy a vanilla prepaid card so he can send me five hundred when I have the card, and he asks me to take a picture of front and back of it, what should I do?
Do not do this. If you buy the card and take a picture of the front and back, they will get the card number and security code. They'll be able to drain money tied to the card. And they may not transfer money to the card.
If someone wants to send you money, they can do this through a wire transfer, Paypal, or check.
Prepaid cards come with fees and a risk the funds will expire. Just have them send you the money some other way that reaches your account. The fees are equal or less in these other methods, and you won't be ripped off.Helpful 41
My boyfriend moved to New York and said he wants to send me money but told me I have to buy a vanilla card and I have to add $40 to it for him to be able to send me money, is this true? $40 is a weird number.
He can send you money via money transfer services like Western Union, money orders through the post office, money sent via apps and banking websites. He could mail you a check. Yes, this is weird on many accounts.Helpful 36
My boyfriend asked me to purchase a vanilla prepaid card for him to send me 2000$. He says it has to be loaded with at least 25/30$ first - is that true?
Yes, you'd need to pay an activation fee for it to work. No, don't do this. If he needs $2000, do a wire transfer, a bank transfer, or so forth. Don't risk a money transfer method that charges so many fees and is so prone to scams.Helpful 27
I have received a Cashiers Check for $ 1,815, and a request for me to buy $ 1,500 on One Vanilla gift cards. The difference of $300 is a payment for surveying the shop where I buy the gift cards. I do not want to accept this offer so what should I do with the check?
This is a scam. This is fraud. Do NOT cash that check.
They want you to put real money on a gift card and send it to them. The check is either fake outright, so you lose your real money when you send it to them, or they are laundering drug money, and you're guilty by association for aiding them.
You can take the check to the police and report their request and their information. Or you can take it to your local bank, NOT cash it, report the fraud and let them track it down.Helpful 25
© 2016 Tamara Wilhite