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Trying to game a rewards credit card program could get your account shut down

Having two credit cards might pass the sniff test, but going further might get your account flagged

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New reports are circulating that credit card companies, hotels, and airlines are going after the jugular of consumers who knowingly violate program rules in an effort to pump up reward points and miles. In the minds of the loyalty rewards providers, this is pure and simple abuse.

The games people play

Smarty-pants consumers have evidently been trying to work all sorts of angles to get more rewards. Here are some of the plays that ConsumerAffairs has found consumers trying to make:

5/24

One gaming technique is to sign up for five credit cards in 24 months, the typical threshold for how often a consumer can apply for a credit card and how many they can have with one company, e.g. Chase. While that possibility apparently still exists, it’s probably a safe bet that the cat’s out of the proverbial bag and the credit card companies are going to be watching 5/24 like a hawk.

Grey areas

ThePointsGuy’s (TPG) reports that American Airlines is shutting down some account holders who were trying to leverage a “grey area” in the terms and conditions by opening credit card accounts using offers that were sent electronically to another member. 

“Standard Citi credit card offers restrict cardholders from earning a sign-up bonus if the potential cardholder has opened or closed an American Airlines miles-earning credit card within the past 48 months,” writes TPG’s JT Genter. 

“However, these targeted mailers didn’t have this sign-up restriction. So, travelers were using these mailers to apply for numerous credit card accounts and earn credit card sign-up bonuses without being limited by the 48-month restrictions.”

Leaked link theory

There’s also the “leaked link” theory in which sneaky consumers tweak links associated with offers originally sent to someone else, get targeted for the same offer, and open up another rewards card in their own name, their real business, or a business they crafted just for the scam.

“Some folks figured out a pattern and have thus discovered links to set-APR offers on many Chase cards,” wrote Nick Reyes at FrequentMiler. “It is important to note that these links were likely not intended to be public. There is therefore certainly some risk in applying and we recommend caution and considering the risk for yourself before applying.”

Black star offer

Another trick consumers have tried to pull that credit card companies like Chase have gotten wise to is the “black star offer.” In the “just for you” section of a consumer’s Chase account online, some may see a “black star,” business-related offer.

However, greed gets the better of some consumers in their quest for black star offers, and therein lies the rub. “Best idea is to still apply for the card you want the most first and then maybe you get lucky and can get a second card as well,” writes the DoctorOfCredit.

Playing with fire

Gaming any system can seem like fun, but it can become addictive. One enterprising consumer with the handle of Amex_Fangirl learned their lesson when Chase shut their account down, and with it, their five personal and one business cards. The user was very candid about how their luck with black star offers gave “a false sense of security, so I jumped in this time.”

One residual effect of getting your accounts shuttered for trying to beat the system can be a little hand-wringing and sweating about what the airlines or credit card companies will do in retaliation. 

“There are lawyers and someone with legal knowledge in this sub,” Amex_Fangirl wrote on Reddit. “In your opinion, how likely will AA be after us monetarily? Their T&C [terms and conditions] mentions ‘Fraud, misrepresentation, abuse or violation of applicable rules is subject to administrative and/or legal action.’ and ‘American Airlines reserves the right to take appropriate legal action to recover damages, including its attorneys’ fees incurred in prosecuting any lawsuit.’"

Words from the wise

The PointsPundit at TravelUpdate has a mantra for any consumer who would like a little extra rewards juice from their credit cards. 

“More often than not, loyalty ideally cuts both ways,” they note. “If you’re a customer who plays the long game and is in the bank’s good books, you’ll enjoy the rich rewards in the long run. However, a few handy tips might help you if you’re looking to play safe and avoid attracting the attention of fraud prevention teams.”

Here’s how PointsPundit lays out their best laid plans:

  • Move ahead at a casual pace. “Miles and points are very profitable for banks and travel companies. They aren’t going anywhere. Don’t take a crash and burn approach.”

  • Don’t mess with links that weren’t sent to you directly. “If you get a targeted offer, then by all means go for it.”

  • Be smart and look for rewards that are a good match for your travel goals. “Apply for cards that align with your travel goals. If you apply for 25 credit cards in a year or 40 in two years, will you really use all of them? Will your pace of travel keep up with the amount of miles you’re racking up? More often than not, people keep hoarding miles until a devaluation hits them eventually.

  • Stay away from “manufactured spending.”According to StudentDebtRelief, manufactured spending is “the process of buying items on credit that can be converted to cash e.g. a gift card. The cardholder then uses the cash to pay the bill on the card, which means he earns rewards without spending any money.” PointPundit says the banks are hip to this and that manufactured spending, especially in bonus categories, is aggressively monitored. “It’s your call how much (if at all any) manufactured spending you want to really generate if it entails risking a shutdown.”

“While I don’t think that the sky is falling, the miles and points game is definitely changing,” is Pundit’s warning. “Just like Amex, Chase seems to be getting more vigilant…It always helps to tread carefully and not poke the bear.

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