Are Banks Blocking Large Walmart Check Card Purchases?

Josh finds himself unable to use his Bank of America check card to make large purchases at Walmart. When he calls customer service, he’s told the bank blocks large purchases at the store because such transactions are “considered a risk.”

He writes:

This is the third time this has happened to me, so I figured it was time to write about it.

In July my wife and I moved to the D.C. metro area. Now we are not big Walmart shoppers or fans for that matter. However we needed to buy a mass amount of supplies and figured this would be a good way to save money. The first purchase was for $450.00. The credit authorization would not go through. There was several thousand dollars in the checking account. When I called BofA to find out what was going on, the phone representative told me that my card was flagged because people who spend large amounts of money at Walmart are considered a risk and that my identity would need to be confirmed.

Fast forward a couple weeks later, same Walmart, and another big purchase. My card was flagged again. I was told the exact same thing that the first rep told me.

Fast forward to about 30 minutes ago. After purchasing a portable dishwasher on walmart.com, I received an email from BofA telling me that there is “Irregular Check Card Activity” and to call a toll free number. I called the number and again was forced to confirm my identity.

This only happens when I make large purchases at Walmart. I appreciate the close eye on things by BofA to a degree, but where were they a few years ago playing Russian Roulette with our investment money on mortgage backed securities?!?!

It’s not often I would go to bat for Wal-Mart, but this is profiling and ridiculous. I thought I should let you folks know.

Has anyone ran into a similar problem at Walmart, using a card from BofA or another bank?

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. NeverLetMeDown says:

    “It’s not often I would go to bat for Wal-Mart, but this is profiling and ridiculous”

    Yes, it’s profiling. No, it’s not necessarily ridiculous. It could very well be that the rate of fraud in high $ transactions at Wal-Mart is much higher than the norm.

    Profiling isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. It’s entirely possible that the blood-soaked man running down the street waving a butcher’s knife and screaming at the top of his lungs presents no threat whatsoever to you – that doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable to assume that he does.

    • Coelacanth says:

      @NeverLetMeDown: Heh. I was blocks away when this “Miracle on 34th St.” happened and made the news.

    • strathmeyer says:

      @NeverLetMeDown: “It’s entirely possible that the blood-soaked man running down the street waving a butcher’s knife and screaming at the top of his lungs presents no threat whatsoever to you”

      No, I don’t think you understand what profiling is.

      • Kogenta says:

        @strathmeyer: I think his example may be a bit on the “extreme” side considering we’re discussing credit profiling, but his example isn’t exactly wrong.

        Whether you like it or not, you’re getting profiled everywhere. Online stores profile you and send you targeted information/newsletters/whatever based on what you browse, what you buy. Google is profiling you based on your searches to send targeted ads and stuff.

        It’s just most profiling is somewhat non-intrusive and you wouldn’t really notice it too much if you weren’t actively looking.

        While profiling by merchant for credit cards isn’t something I’ve heard about, they do maintain a spending profile. That’s how if suddenly a $2000 purchase shows up on a card that normally never exceeds $200, it gets flagged for authorization.

        I guess the question becomes, how much should the credit card companies try to protect you from theft? We’ve sort of gone from little protection to over protection.

    • augiet65 says:

      @NeverLetMeDown:

      I think the line from Dirty Harry sums it up best for profiling.

      Harry Callahan: Well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That’s my policy.
      The Mayor: Intent? How did you establish that?
      Harry Callahan: When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher’s knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross.

    • That's Consumer007 to you says:

      @NeverLetMeDown: How they are handling it is COMPLETELY ridiculous. There should be a federal law that when a purchase is blocked, the company calls the consumer INSTANTLY to identify them, release the block and let the purchase go through.

      Otherwise, why should anyone use credit cards?

      Next $1 purchases will be suspicious and blocked, because smart thieves will start with 4 or 5 $1-2 purchases before the big one.

      • Kogenta says:

        @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer: Hey lets not be completely ridiculous on the other end of the spectrum here. Unless you also happen to introduce a federal law that mandates every person who has a credit card also has a way for the card issuer to contact you instantly, it’s not going to work so well. They can “instantly” call the number that you activated the cards with, but since you’re at the store, I doubt very much that you’d be able to answer them.

        I don’t know what walmart’s policy is, but many stores will get a “call for authorization” message on the terminal when something like this happens and they’ll gladly put you through to the credit card company to help you get everything straitened out.

        The problem with saying they’re denying the use of your money is that it’s a CREDIT card. They’re issuing you a temporary loan of credit which you’re expected to repay later.

        Insurance is protection, but you’d have to be nuts to think it’s some sort of catch all that means you don’t have to try and minimize your risks. Lots of claims makes insurance go up. I mean, if you drive and have car insurance, you don’t suddenly have a license to drive like a maniac just because whatever you damage is covered by insurance.

        Now, while I think companies are becoming overzealous in their “fraud prevention”, there are perfectly legitimate reasons why they would flag your card. Say if they saw it being used in two different cities at the same time.

        • That's Consumer007 to you says:

          @Kogenta: Your “Maniac” analogy to consumers buying stuff at the store with YES their own money if it is a debit card being used is offensive at best. If their credit is good, they haven’t abused it and THEY ARE TOLD it is available, it is no more acceptable to deny them that either.

          Well, kog I guess if you don’t respect yourself and your money and want to be denied buying whatever you need at any time, that’s your option, but don’t tell the rest of us we have to be consumer wuses and accept it.

          A better analogy is being held up at work at the entrance by security or at police road blocks every day trying to get on the highway on your way to work because despite all the answers and the right ID you ARE SUSPICIOUS and may not be who you are, and told you will have to go home because they can’t verify you, and then fired for security reasons.

          Seriously, what other abuses are you ready to accept for someone else’s “security”?

          When people can’t fricking live their lives any more because of “security”, the corporations need to fall down, go boom. Big time.

  2. wcnghj says:

    You should never have several thousand $$$ in an account linked to a payment card IMO.

    • Skaperen says:

      @wcnghj: Then how do people buy those big giant TVs at Walmart? Do you expect them to carry cash? Oh wait, that might actually be safer.

  3. stevekw says:

    $450 at Walmart that a lot of pop tarts and coke.

  4. Coyote says:

    I think by “risk” customer service meant to him. My bank by default came with a $300 limit on check cards in case the card was stolen. He can probably just call BoA and tell them to authorize more.

    • thezone says:

      @Coyote: I don’t think that would be the case. If you run up against your limit customer service will tell you that. They wouldn’t just say it was because you were shopping at Walmart.

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    This actually makes sense to me. Statistically, it’s very possible that the majority of credit card thieves end up going to Wal-Mart to spend their ill-gotten gains because it’s a big box store, the policies aren’t as stringent, people aren’t as aware or as sharp-eyed and you’re not as likely to get caught with a stolen credit card as you are in say, a Best Buy. Also, Wal-Marts have a variety of items so if your motivation was to buy a ton of things you wanted or needed, and not to buy electronics just to fence them, Wal-Mart’s the place to go with a lowered risk of suspicion.

    • CaptainSemantics says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Yes, exactly. While my evidence is only anecdotal, I’ve had a few friends across the nation who have been the victim of credit fraud. Where was the first place the thieves hit up? You guessed it: Wal-Mart. It’s because it’s completely normal to go into Wal-Mart and spend hundreds of dollars on all sorts of stuff. TV + XBox + Bike + groceries = At least $1K.

      I don’t blame BofA at all, especially if that area is frequently used by thieves. (I’m not up on the credit fraud community, so I have no clue if there are popular spots for them.)

    • bohemian says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: I think this is the core of the issue. Scammers frequent Walmart seeing it as an easy place to conduct fraud transactions.

      It is still a bit creepy that BoA is sort of saying where they will and won’t let you shop at. It is your money after all. If you want to spend it on hookers and blow that is your business as long as your dealings with the bank are legal and you keep a proper account balance.

      I found out that our bank branch manager (smaller regional bank) was going through people’s accounts to see where they bought things at with their check cards. This bothered me but I can’t really do much about it other than pay cash or use a different bank account.

    • coren says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Not to mention their incredibly lax return policy: Easy way to turn fraudulent purchases into cash: return without receipt, then sell the gift card.

      There’s also the huge variety of stuff there – it might be odd for me to go to Best Buy and nab a TV (especially since it’s Best Buy lololol), Costco for 300 of expensive groceries, Subway for dinner, a bunch of clothes at whatever retailer, and whatever else thieves buy. But plunking down a few hundred, even a thousand at Wally World? Most don’t bat an eye.

  6. GMFish says:

    The story from last week about the guy who had his Chase card used without his permission at Walmart makes a lot more sense.

    I thought it was strange that Chase would flag a use of his card at Walmart considering it near where he lived. What was suspicious about that? Apparently merely shopping at Walmart is in itself suspicious.

  7. yoshitoshi says:

    2 weeks ago when my credit card info was stolen the first place the thief went was to a target where they were denied (thanks chase!). So considering the usual suspects I think BofA has a good policy going.

  8. rpm773 says:

    I’ve had problems with my BofA’s seemingly over-zealous fraud detection practices in the past. I’ve had my bank card blocked a few times in the past when out of town.

    As such, I usually use my bank/debit card only for very regular purchases locally, only at BofA ATMs, and never when I’m out of town.

    • fairywench says:

      @rpm773: Of course, any time you use a debit card at an ATM, you run the risk that scammers have one of those dohickeys on the machine and are capturing your card number and PIN.

      I’m about to go back to paying for things with shiny rocks and seashells. :(

  9. uncle_fluffy says:

    I also got cock-blocked by my Citibank card while trying to make a purchase at Walmart that was in the $170 range (can’t remember the exact amount, this was a few weeks ago). This was also in the DC area. Got the fraud alert treatment as well.

    My USAA debit card worked just fine. Just another reason to love USAA.

  10. JohnDeere says:

    its christmastime, this is gonna make standing in line a pain in the ass. all me and my wife use is our bofa check cards, neither carry cash as an atm is always around the corner. and we dont shop at places that dont take the cards. black friday is about the only christmas shopping i do at walmart, and i do spend a lot of money on that day. this isnt something they did to me last year.

  11. rellog321 says:

    I had a similar thing happen to me at WalMart. I’m pretty anti-Walmart, but if they’re the only option, I have to do what I need to do. I used my Juniper card at a self checkout there and it was declined and a “hold” was put on the card. This hold actually caused a problem with my professional license as only a day later they tried to run the fee for my license through and the card was “locked.” It took an additional 4 months to process my license because of this delay. If the banks have an issue with a retailer they need to talk to Mastercard or Visa and get it settled that way, not simply place random holds on cards that may have far reaching ramifications.

    • ARP says:

      @rellog321: Two questions: How often do you shop there and how much did you try to spend? If you only shop there once every few years and suddenly, you try to drop $500, it makes sense to flag this as suspicious.

  12. balthisar says:

    Wow, I just *knew* that Citibank was guilty of profiling by making sure that none of my purchases went through in Mexico until I called to verify that I was I. How dare they pick on Mexico, just because credit card fraud is rampant there, and sudden, out of the ordinary use is both abrupt and unordinary.

    Uh, yeah, thanks for the warning. That makes this a valid story. But crying about profiling? It seems perfectly acceptable in this case.

  13. frari489 says:

    Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again

  14. CoarseLive says:

    Credit Union.

    Why does anyone still use Bank of America?

    • CFinWV says:

      @CoarseLive: Agreed. I unfortunately had to make some large purchases at walmart when I bought my first home and never had issues with my credit union card going through.

  15. Ronin-Democrat says:

    First i don’t know why anyone would make a purchase using a bank card insted of a credit card.
    you may have the money in your account but why risk problems getting your money back for the product your buying becuase you hveno protection.

    Get in the habit of keeping your money safely in your account and make one payment a month from your checking account to your credit card company.

    plus as one commenter pointed out why have thousands of dollars linked to a card that when stole is gone baby gone.

    ps all you criminals out there, shop a little more upscale, macys bloomingdales, victoria’s secret to make your fraudulent less suspicious……

  16. umbriago says:

    Oh the humanity. FORCED TO CONFIRM MY IDENTITY. Sometimes I wonder if I’m still the only person alive who likes to use cash. So much less hassle.

  17. MartaMyrrha says:

    It’s weird to hear BofA is so security conscious after my experience with them. I found an account holder’s checkbook from BofA. I called CS to tell them I have it and to notify their acct holder (I assumed they would be v. worried and would be shutting down their acct – a real hassle).

    BofA told me they do not note an accts ever about anything, they do not notify their acct holder or even place a hold on the acct to stop fraudulent transactions. I explained with the checkbook I could, in theory, write a bunch of fraudulent checks all about town. Again, Bofa explained they are not interested in the news that I have a valid, active acct, checkbook. They did not even tell me to go to a branch with it ( which wasnt convenient at the time).

    so…the fact they care about the OP shopping at Walmart is ridiculous if they do not care across the board.

  18. kingoftheroad40 says:

    Number 1 it is bank of assholes two I would sue b.o.a. for public slander/libel defamation for the public embarrassment of people in line behind me thinking that guy can not pay his bills dead beat.
    stand up for the few rights we have left .
    walmart has asked me to show id just because I used a credit card no booze ciggs or the like. A week later same card buy beer no id asked for ????????

    • AnthonyC says:

      @kingoftheroad40:

      As for number 2, you’d lose. To be libel or slander, a statement must be made (B.o.A made no statement of any kind to the people in line), the statement must be false (it may be quite true that large transactions at Walmart are disproportionately likely to be fraudulent), and they must be intended to cause harm (the intention here is fraud prevention, to protect either the customer of B.o.A.)

  19. econobiker says:

    “D.C. metro area” and “Walmart” pretty much gives the reason.

    I would suspect that boat-loads of scams are run through Walmarts in that area – buying gift cards with stolen account info, stolen credit cards used for purchases, buy and return with bricks inside the box. etc.

  20. CompyPaq says:

    Schwab bank didn’t seem to find it odd that after months of making small purchases near my house and never shopping at Walmart before, I made a ~$200 purchase at a Walmart in a different state.

    I wonder what would have happened had I used my BofA card.

  21. ldnyc says:

    This happened to me just a few weeks ago when I was in Jacksonville, FL for my niece’s birthday (i live in Brooklyn, NY).

    I had taken her to WalMart with me to pick up a few items and ended up buying a bunch of things for her & my nephews and a bunch of things for me. I told the clerk I was paying for all of it on the same card, but asked her to split the ring-up so that my niece and nephew’s stuff would be on a separate receipt that i could leave with my sister in case she needed to exchange anything for a different size. That was no problem. So she ran my items through and I paid with my B of A debit card and it went through without an issue (about $200). Then she rang the kids stuff up and I swiped again (about $300) and the card was declined.

    I pulled out my Blackberry and check my balance – knowing that I had over $5000 in the account, but still concerned that maybe something was wrong. My balance was accurate, so I swiped again, but it was still declined.

    I took out my OTHER B of A debit card, which I have for my business account, which also had over $5k in the account, and swiped – Declined again. So I then switched to my Chase Mastercard and that card went through. I left WalMart and figured I’d call B of A when I got back to the hotel to see why both my debit cards were suddenly being declined.

    About an hour later, I get an automated message from B of A with a phone number I’m supposed to call and a case code I have to enter. So I do that, and after about 30 minutes of holding and being transferred, they finally had me verify the last few transactions and told me that the first Walmart charge triggered their fraud system a) because it was a charge in FL, when my usually charges are in NY, and b) because charges of more than a few hundred dollars at Walmart automatically set off their fraud detection because there’s a high rate of fraudulent transactions there.

    I got it all resolved and my cards were useable again within a few minutes of hanging up the phone – I went to the local B of A to withdraw cash from the ATM to be sure – but it sure was a nuisance at the time.

  22. jayde_drag0n says:

    I always call my bank or go inside and let them know when i’m making big purchases and where so that my card is not denied for being outside of my normal purchase habits

  23. pot_roast says:

    I’ve had this happen with BofA, but not at Wal-Mart. It happened at a Circuit City. I simply had to give their customer service a call, got transferred to fraud, and explained what was going on.

    It has also happened with my Paypal card too. (At the time, it had a higher daily limit than my BofA card and I needed to buy a large ticket item)

    I can’t say that I object to them being at least slightly proactive.

  24. PLATTWORX says:

    “because people who spend large amounts of money at Walmart are considered a risk”

    TRUE.

    I am suprised BofA said it, but Walmart customers are typically lower income, lower eduction level and more prone to fraud.

    No offense, it’s true.

    • NYGuy1976 says:

      That is not really true at all. It depends where the Walmart is. I have been to a Walmart way upstate NY and it is pretty much what you describe. I use to live in AZ and the Walmart in Scottsdale is totally opposite. The parking lot is mostly Mercedes, Lexus, BMW….

  25. zentex says:

    after reading the comments, I think there might just be a BINGO here…

  26. NoWin says:

    Happened to me last Friday – I was in WM to use the pharmacy and my B of A credit card (not debit) was declined. After calling there fraud dept, they pulled a public search to ask for any previous addresses as a confirmation of ID. That is simply too Draconian if you ask me. I agree w/ a previous poster that they (BA) need to change the verify procedures at the point of swipage.

  27. JFord says:

    @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer

    Wow. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well freakin’ done. Some people would rather trash the OP than realize the point here.

    The point is that BofA has no right to withhold access to people’s accounts without notice. This has happened to me at Walmart AND at the Apple Store! So those of you who poo-poo this as “oh, well its just Walmart”, think again.

    I’ll invoke Areyouagoodlittleconsumer now:

    Grow a spine, fool.

  28. junip says:

    One of the company credit card numbers where I work was stolen a couple of years ago. Where did the offender spend most of the money? Walmart. All the transactions were in the $300-$500 range too. And there were 2-3 transactions a day there for a week. I’m not surprised some companies are flagging walmart purchases.

  29. Xeos says:
  30. zzxx says:

    Credit cards are in deep trouble. They get worried when cards are used in other-than-normal ways. This could be a sign that someone might go bankrupt, namely run everything up to the max then declare bankruptcy. Let them save their sorry asses. Maybe they learned.

    Next, I think that deadbeats (no interest – no fees) like me are targeted for extra harassment. I frequently have to deal with the Chase security department in the Philippines when I buy anything more than gas.

    In that case I try to waste as much of their time as I can. They throw me people who cannot speak English. I just keep asking for other people and I try to get back at their targeted harassment.

  31. ctate says:

    We have a Chase card and this happened. We used the card for various purchases at Wal-Mart without issue. One day we decided to purchase a Wii, games, and accessories. The purchase went through, but then Chase put a fraud alert on the card and we couldn’t use it for ANYTHING! They never called us or verified anything until we called them. We were being declined for gas and groceries. We also had plenty of money in the bank.
    They explained that the Wal-Mart purchase triggered the fraud alert and made us verify a ton of personal information before lifting the flag. I would have rathered the purchase be declined at Wal-Mart. It was a hassle when being declined with a cart full of groceries. (I don’t use credit cards.)
    Honestly, if this is standard practice it’ll just be yet another reason to keep me from Wal-Mart. I know it’s not fair, but I don’t care for Wal-Mart anymore anyhow…

  32. Darkneuro says:

    My bank would call me to tell me my card had been swiped and my PIN used at a local gas station, but only that particular gas station. I’d have to confirm I did use the card there before they’d pass it through.
    I eventually switched gas stations.

  33. thereisn0try says:

    This exact thing happened to my boyfriend and it turned out to be legitimate. About a month ago, he got a call from BofA about a $2,000+ charge at a Wal Mart. It was indeed fraudulent, and he was very thankful that they called him.
    We later joked that it must have sent up a red flag somewhere in their system because, unlike me, he would never dare shop at a Wal Mart.

  34. ogremustcrush says:

    I had BofA do this to me at Target once. Was trying to buy the super LCD TV deal on Black Friday, and my stupid debit card wouldn’t go through at the register. At that point, I only had one credit card with too low of limit to be used for the purchase. Thankfully my mom was there shopping with me, so she graciously offered to pay for my TV until I could get my stupid bank to let me use my own money.

    BofA called me asking about the charge like 6 hours later, long after the TV would have been sold out and the sale finished. Needless to say, not long after I ditched them. Also got some more credit cards with higher limits. Its always good to be able to access some money, even if its the form that requires being paid off at the end of the month instead of debited directly from ones account. Plus, with the warranty extensions, rewards, and fraud prevention features on credit cards, it seems almost dumb to use a debit card over one for large purchases (or anything online really.)

  35. drduran says:

    I’ve never had a problem at Walmart, but at Fry’s for some reason CitiBank Debit Cards won’t work as Debit, only Credit.

  36. captainpicard says:

    @CoarseLive: incorrect. it should be (and is) absolutely legal. The bank isn’t saying that you cannot use your money there, they just want to confirm ahead of time that you are. They do offer protection, but when they have to use the protection it eats into thier profits, so as a business they are doing thier best to stop it ahead of time.

    Of course the bank is going to protect itself from theft, who wouldn’t?

  37. secret_curse says:

    @CoarseLive: If you don’t like the practice, find a bank that doesn’t do it. Every single little inconvience in life doesn’t need a new law to fix it…

    There are already lots of protections in place for consumers using plastic. In general, you can’t be held liable for fradulent credit card charges and your debit card liability is limited to $50. With that in mind, of course the bank is going to do everything possible to keep their fraud costs down.

  38. SadSam says:

    @bohemian:

    Back when I had a Citibank credit card if I used the card for gas and groceries in the same day within a short window, like I stopped to get gas before I went to the grocery store, my card was flagged and I could not process the grocery store purchase.

    I had many conversations with Citibank customer service and was told that I could not authorize any particular purchases or stores in advance (like XYZ Publix is where I buy my groceries) because the fraud system was all based on a very sophisticated computer program and people often hit a gas station first to make sure the credit card works so gas + another purchase is often flagged as fraud.

    I eventually stopped using creidt cards and closed that Citibank card. I’ve had no problems with my debit card.

  39. brandmuffin says:

    In fact if you lost your bank card, any unauthrorized purchases are not reversed once you report the card stolen.

    I lost an ATM card on a Friday, Sunday I noticed it was gone around midnight. I assumed it was at home until Monday was awaken from a call made by my bank about unusual activity. My balance of almost $3,000 was depleted at the time they called. I watched online as my reserve line credit for $5000 attached to my account was being eaten up. Basically I filed my paperwork at the branch on weds once they felt all the charges should have been processed. Only Zappos.com gave a rats ass about a purchase for $1300, AT&T let the yahoos but $700 phones twice in a few minutes inside on of thier stores. They bought gift cards, none of this was ever investigated or effort put into voiding these unauthorized purchases (of resaleable goods $100 starbuck card or Nordstrom GC) but as the 30 days needed to investigate was nearly over I get a letter saying I never sent the required information to start the investigation…….I sat in the branch and wrote these out the branch kindly said they were sending them by fax to thier fraud team. I refaxed them and was sent a letter saying we have begun the investigation now it would take 30 days for them to make a decision. So nearly 60 days my money not credit was gone, I was living off credit cards luckily my business was booming as I had 2 homes, and a business to run.

    On the bright side since life was so horrible at the time I quit smoking since they werte $5 a pack, and I saw that everyone was as miserable about my misfourtane as I was. Non smoker since July of 2006 thanks to having no money.

  40. LastError says:

    @SadSam: This is true. Gas is often the first thing card thieves try. Why? Because they can stand at a pump and do it and not have to face any one. No signature needed. If the card is declined, they don’t have a lot of trouble and no witnesses. And of course they have a getaway car RIGHT there.

    If the card works, often groceries or high-end sneakers (shoes) are next. Food you can eat and the shoes the thief can wear or hock easily.

    Electronics and other pricey things are often next. High value, easy to hock.

    Many gas stations are now demanding a zip code for pump-based credit card transactions. Of course the crooks know this so they simply note your zip when they steal the rest of your card info.

  41. MikeVx says:

    @LastError: While I had not planned it that way, my use of a Commercial Mail Receiving Agent (CMRA) helps me in the security area as my CMRA is in a different ZIP code and is where I have all my important bills sent to. That is the code I have to use at any authentication point, and I don’t carry that address on my person normally. Anyone stealing my wallet will get a bad ZIP code for credit card purposes.