November 22, 2013
Wow. That didn’t take long. In September I reported that my Mio card was being converted to a MyVanilla card and I was afraid that the changeover would lead to my account getting shut down (see “Bye bye Mio“). The Mio and MyVanilla debit cards were already nearly identical. Both could be loaded with Vanilla Reload cards. Both had similar transaction fees. Both could be used as true debit cards. What made my Mio card special, though, was that my account was never shut down. Ever since they added fees for every transaction, I stopped using the card for day to day spend and, instead, used it exclusively as a way to liquidate Vanilla Reload cards. With most prepaid cards, that’s a sure way to get shut down, but my Mio kept chugging along… until it was converted to MyVanilla.
On Monday, I tried loading a Vanilla Reload card to my Mio card, but received an error. My first thought was that my Mio account might be in limbo during the switchover to MyVanilla. I looked at the MyVanilla website and saw a new banner that read as follows:
Welcome Mio Money Cardholders, your Mio Money Card will be upgraded to a MyVanilla Prepaid MasterCard. Set up your Online Account now to check your balance, see transactions, and more.
That seemed to confirm my suspicion that my Mio card was in limbo during the switchover. I thought that, maybe, if I setup my MyVanilla account I would be good to go. So, I tried, but the website told me that something was wrong and that I should call. So, I did.
The phone number on the back of my Mio card redirected me to MyVanilla customer support. Apparently, the switchover already occurred. A customer service representative told me that my account was frozen pending review. In order to complete the review and unfreeze my account, I was told that I would have to fax or email the following:
- Social security card
- Proof of address
- Load receipts
No thanks! I didn’t mind having my account closed altogether, so I asked the rep to just close my account and send me a check for the balance. That’s where things got really bad…
The rep told me that as long as my account was frozen, they couldn’t cancel my account to release my funds. What!? I had never heard of anything like that before. Isn’t there a law against them holding my funds hostage like that? After complaining a bit (in a nice way), but getting nowhere, I asked the rep to tell me again what I would need to send them to complete the review. After she listed the items again, the ensuing conversation went something like this:
Me: What are load receipts?
Rep: How did you load money onto the card?
Me: I bought Vanilla Reload cards and used them to load money.
Rep: Then you’ll need to send us the receipts showing the purchase of the Vanilla Reload cards as well as scans of the front and back of the reload cards.
Me: But… after successfully loading money to my card, I always toss out the receipts.
Rep: You can go to the store where you bought them and request copies of the receipts.
Me: But… I use Vanilla Reload cards to load other cards besides the Mio card, and I buy cards from lots of different stores. I would have no way to know which particular stores or receipts or reload cards were used to reload my Mio card.
Rep: I’m sorry sir, but that’s the only way for us to release your funds.
Me: You can’t hold my funds without giving me a way to get my money back!
Rep: You do have a way. Just send in the info requested including the load receipts.
I demanded to speak with her supervisor. Her supervisor told me the exact same story. I then demanded to speak with the supervisor’s manager. He also told me the same story. He did add one additional idea, though. He suggested that I send in everything I could and also attach a document explaining why I couldn’t produce the load receipts.
Trying to comply
I scanned in everything I could and wrote a letter as the manager suggested. I attached all of it to an email and sent the bundle to the email address they gave me (firstname.lastname@example.org). The manager also told me to call the next day to check to make sure that the documents were received. I gave them an extra day and called on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. After waiting on hold for an eternity I was told that they hadn’t received the email. Please re-send it. So, I re-sent it.
Looking for other solutions
My next step was to search FlyerTalk to see if others had experienced the same problem. In the MyVanilla forum, I did find a couple of similar incidents. Through a recommendation from another FlyerTalk member, one person reported that their account was re-opened the day after they submitted a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). I figured that it couldn’t hurt, so I submitted my own complaint on Wednesday afternoon. There didn’t seem to be a category for prepaid cards, so I listed my account as a savings account. Under “company name,” I listed Bancorp Bank since they issue the card (but maybe I should have listed InComm? I don’t know). In the text of the complaint I described the situation and the fact that I wasn’t being offered a reasonable way to access my funds.
Waiting for resolution
As of Thursday morning, I haven’t heard back from the CFPB other than an automated confirmation email. I called MyVanilla to check whether they had received my second email. After a long wait on hold, they surprised me by telling me that yes they had received it. Then they went on to tell me that they had everything they needed from me except for load receipts. As soon as I send those, they can process the review. Sigh.
At this point, I don’t know what the final solution will be. I’m sure I’ll get my money back eventually but I don’t know when or how. I’ll publish again once I learn more.
I decided to publish the details of my experience as a cautionary tale for others. It used to be the case that a prepaid card shut-down was not a big deal if you had enough funds to float the balance for a while. You would simply call and demand your money back, and they would send a check typically in 2 to 6 weeks. I know that some people have had trouble getting that promised check, but at least it was promised and so with a little perseverance I think it has always been possible to get your money back (often minus a fee for sending a paper check). This situation is different, though. The MyVanilla organization (InComm) is now saying that, in this situation, you cannot have your funds back unless you comply with their demands. If, like me, you have no practical way to meet the demands, then your money is seemingly out of reach forever.
I’m sure that this will get resolved eventually, but for now this is not a situation I would wish for anyone to get stuck in. If you use MyVanilla cards, be careful!
- Vanilla Reloadables (where I list details about prepaid cards that can be loaded with Vanilla Reload cards)
- Bye bye Mio (where I reported the changeover of my Mio card to MyVanilla)
- We’re sorry, there is a problem with your account (where I detailed the experience of having my NetSpend card shut down)