Five months ago, we started hearing from readers all over America who had almost exactly the same complaint: “The balance on my MoneyCard suddenly dropped to zero, after somebody spent that money at a Target store in New York City.”
On the bright side, it does appear that Walmart's policy is to refund hacked MoneyCard balances (provided the hack is reported in the proper timely manner, of course). On the down side, it can take several weeks for the money to be refunded, leaving some people unable to pay their bills or living expenses in the meantime.
This week, five months later, we got an email from a reader named Nicole, who told us: “I have come across your article about Wal-Mart Money Cards being hacked because unfortunately I was a victim this week. Other than your article I have not been able to find any information pertaining to hackers making purchases in New York.”
Nicole said she keeps money on the MoneyCard mainly for convenience — she can add money to the balance anytime at a nearby 24-hour Walmart — and also signed up for daily text messages from Walmart confirming her MoneyCard balance. (And good thing she did, too.)
On Feb. 24, the daily text confirmed she had a balance of just over $327. Nicole then went to her local Virginia Target store and made a $43 debit card purchase. But when she checked her account the next day, expecting to find a $284 balance plus a recent transaction record limited to businesses near her in central Virginia, her transaction record showed a mysterious $250 credit, followed almost immediately by a $250 debit, at an Econo Lodge in Florida.
Alarmed, Nicole called the MoneyCard's customer service number, and heard an automated message telling her she had a balance of zero. When she logged in to her account, she saw a purchase that day for $284.29 — her exact balance — at a Target store in the New York City suburb of Mount Vernon.
Nicole pointed out that, as a central Virginia resident, “there is no way that I could have made a purchase in Florida and then at Target in NY for the exact dollar and change amount that was in my account.” She called customer service but “was told that because the Target NY transaction was still pending, that they could not dispute it until it shows that it has posted.”
But then, that's similar to what our readers complained about last September — the California woman who bought something at a Sacramento coffee shop, and by lunchtime her account had been drained at a New York City Target; the California man who made a local Walmart purchase before learning someone had spent his account balance at a New York City Target; the women in Missouri and Ohio shocked to discover their MoneyCards funded a shopping spree at a Target in Brooklyn, and so forth.
Chances are Nicole and all these other people will get their money back — eventually. But they might find themselves strapped for cash in the meanwhile. Nicole ended her complaint by noting that the customer-service telephone rep did cancel her hacked account, but charged her a $3 replacement fee; meanwhile, “to be made to wait weeks for a resolution or to receive my money back is very disappointing.”
Prepaid money cards (from any company, not just Walmart) generally lack the legal protections offered by debit or credit cards. Indeed, the anti-fraud policies Walmart attaches to its MoneyCards are voluntary policies, not legally required ones. Frustrating as it is for a hacker's victim to hear “Sorry, Walmart won't refund your money for several weeks and meanwhile you must do without,” the bald truth is, even that is better customer service than the company is legally obligated to show its MoneyCard holders.
Walmart's online cardholder agreement says that in the event of fraud, “You will notify us right away if you believe your Walmart MoneyCard or PIN has been lost or stolen or that someone has used or may use your card or PIN without your permission. You can notify us online at walmartmoneycard.com, calling (877) 937-4098 or write to us at Our Mail Address. See "Your Liability for Unauthorized Use of Your Walmart MoneyCard or PIN."
Scroll further down the page to the relevant section, and you'll find this:
“Tell us AT ONCE if you believe your Walmart MoneyCard or PIN has been lost or stolen. Calling is the best way of notifying us. You will not lose any part of the money on your Walmart MoneyCard based on unauthorized use if you have exercised reasonable care in safeguarding your card and PIN from risk of loss or theft. However, if these conditions are NOT met, you could lose the lesser of $50 or the amount of unauthorized use from your Walmart MoneyCard before you notify us that your card has been lost or stolen. If you believe your Walmart MoneyCard or PIN has been lost or stolen, report it online at walmartmoneycard. com or call (877) 937-4098, or write to Our Mail Address."
After you do this, you should also make a report to the relevant consumer protection or anti-fraud agency in your state or province.