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Moving, Manufactured Spend, and The Police?
18 Jun. 2022
Moving, Manufactured Spend, and The Police?

Movin-On Out

I recently left Minnesota and moved out of state.  There were several factors involved in the move including better weather, the ability to work remotely, and the left-wing violence that engulfed the Twin Cities metro, which I wrote about previously.  Minnesota is a nice state, and I do love miss a lot of things about it, but the riots in 2020 were ultimately the turning point for me.  I’ll never get over the violence and destruction that happened to Minneapolis and St. Paul, both cities I lived in for years.  It’s not to say I’ll never return to the area, but I did need a change.  With that said, I narrowed down my search of places to relocate to, packed up my stuff, and left.

One of my favorite songs and tv series; reminds me a little of the moving process

Wheels Up

The move itself was brutal.  I rented a 16 foot moving van from Penske with high hopes.  Moving out of state was also expensive; hiring a small move team and one way truck rental are incredibly pricey.  The truck itself looked new, was comfortable to drive, and seemed like it would perfectly fit everything I had. Unfortunately the truck didn’t come close to fitting all of my stuff in it, and that was the beginning of the gong show.  I ended up having to rent another van on move-out day along with a local storage unit for everything that didn’t fit in the rental van. All of that took extra time and energy, and we didn’t depart until 9-10 hours later than expected and drove well into the early hours of the morning before getting a hotel on the way. A buddy of mine helped me move and also drove my car down behind the rental truck.  We had hoped to do sort of a road trip on the way down, stopping at sights along the way, but since we got a very late start, those plans were scrapped.  We were pretty exhausted from a full day of physical labor and were honestly lucky not to fall asleep at the wheel during any part of the drive.

When we finally reach the destination, my place wasn’t close to move-in ready. It was actually in pretty awful condition.  I wasn’t clean in the least and was in desperate need of a paint job and big-time cleaning.  I talked with the owner on the phone, and she agreed to get painters and cleaners in there asap.  Fortunately a friend of mine in town allowed me to stay with him for several days, but the entire week was pretty stressful and disappointing.  In the meantime, my stuff was stacked in the middle of a few rooms while the place was painted and revamped.

Litterbug

A few hours into the first day of painting, I was going through some of the boxes looking for something  while the painters did their thing when my phone rang.  Even though the call number was from Minnesota, I didn’t recognize it and let it go to voicemail.  I figured the call was telemarketing of some sort, but then the phone rang again just a few minutes later from the same number.  Telemarketers or spam calls usually don’t call back right away, so I answered and got a pretty big surprise.

“Hello, is this Jeffrey —– ?”

“Yes, this is.  Who is this?”

“This is sergeant (XX) here in (MN) small town (Y).”

At first I didn’t think I heard the person correctly, as there was music being played for the painters and some commotion all around me in the apartment.

“Hold on a second, I’m just going to walk into another room where I can hear you,” I said.

Ask I walked away from the painters, my initial response to the call was confusion. Why is this person calling me?  Are my family and friends okay?  Did something terrible happen?  And I don’t live in Minnesota anymore either, so why am I getting this call?  Those thoughts combined with the stress of the move had me really confused and curious.  Although I had heard of small town (Y), I hadn’t been there before and wasn’t even sure where it was located.  Once I reached a room where I could hear better, we continued talking.

“Ok sorry I couldn’t hear you very well.  How can I help you?”, I asked again.

“This is sergeant (XX).  I’m calling you because we found a bunch of things that were discarded in a ditch near town that we think are yours,” the officer said plainly.

The officer explained that they found a bunch of personal documents, file folders, printed statements from Alaska Airlines, Bank of America, etc.  After hearing that I explained that I had just moved out of state, and when I found out that much of my things wouldn’t fit in the rental truck, I ended up throwing a bunch of things away in the trash bin.  I specifically remember discarding two small plastic record keeping boxes from 2013-214 just before departing.  I knew those boxes definitely had old statements from the companies he mentioned, because I quickly went through each of them before throwing them away.  Since I had been shutdown from Bank of America several years ago, and since the rest of the other information was so old, I didn’t mind tossing it into a large trash bin.

I explained to the officer that I had planned on taking the documents with me, but that when push came to shove, I just started throwing stuff away en masse to save time and space.  The nearly decade old documents he had in front of him were part of the chuck-fest.

“We also found about 2,000 gift cards and a bunch of money orders too,” the officer added.

After hearing that, I got concerned pretty quickly.  “Hold on a second, do you mean money orders or money order receipts?”, I asked.

“Sorry, money order receipts,” he replied.

“Ok good!”, I said in a slightly relieved manner, and as the totality of what he found had been revealed, it was clear we needed to talk in more detail.

“Officer, have you heard of travel hacking?”, I asked.

“Yes I have,” he said.

I was surprised at his response, but also relieved.  After hearing this, I started to describe what he had found, the generals of manufactured spend, and how this all relates to me.  I took a couple minutes and at a high level, described that everything he was looking at was my attempt to earn travel rewards like frequent flyer miles, hotel points, etc. to make travel more affordable.  I explained some of the math involved in manufactured spend with gift cards, why I engage in travel hacking, how money orders fit into the equation, and the also the fact that everything I do is electronic and can be tracked.  Unfortunately there are other people with bad intentions doing similar things with gift cards and money orders that points people do.  The big difference is that those people are up to no good and move money around trying to hide things, whereas people doing it for points want things to be trackable and transparent.  The officer even had a few credit cards that earned points, so he was understood the foundations of loyalty rewards.

The call lasted for around 10 minutes or so, and at the end of the call the officer asked me what I wanted done with all of the stuff that they had found.  I told him that since I originally intended to throw all of it away, that he could just trash it.  What is a bit of a mystery is when the stuff was taken and who took it?  Did someone working at my previous residence in MN see a huge pile of gift cards, file folders, and other information in the trash bin that they thought was valuable and try and make us of it?  Or was the trash picked up, transported to a larger, regional facility where someone thought they found plastic gold?  Or was the stuff actually dumped/disposed of somewhere and someone got it from there?  From the time when I dumped the stuff down the trash chute to the officer’s call was around 4-5 days, so not a ton of time for things to happen.  Maybe the end of the month/beginning of the month also had something to do with when trash would be picked up, not sure.  I doubt I’ll ever know.

What’s also kind of surreal is that before moving, I consulted with some points friends about whether or not I should take my old/used gift cards with me.  In case of an audit, I had always thought it was best practice to keep old receipts and gift cards in case anyone with a need to know needed to know.  My friends basically told me to part ways with old records and information, but I was very hesitant.  However, when it was clear that all of my belongings couldn’t fit into the rental truck, my plans changed quickly and I dumped box after box down the trash chute.  After the final few boxes were dumped down the trash chute, I imagined this small mountain of plastic, used, prepaid gift cards the peaked many feet over the top of the dumpster.

I had dozens of baseball card boxes full of various gift card denominations ($200, $500, and $1,000) Visa/Mastercard cards – stored in the corner of a bedroom in rows, organized by date, and stacked up to the ceiling.  I’m not sure on the total amount of gift cards that were thrown away, but considering it was years worth of manufactured spend, it was comfortably in the millions.  When the call came in that someone took my information along with a bunch of used gift cards, I felt like the decision to trash my old MS info was made in haste.  I also felt bad that so much trash was left on the side of a road/in a ditch, but that obviously wasn’t my doing.

I’d guess within a very short time of either noticing card after card had a zero balance, or even after trying to use some of them, instant frustration probably set in once the thieves realized that what they had taken was essentially useless.  The officer mentioned there was a prison near to where my items were found, but that tie-in seemed kind of faint.  After the call I was definitely concerned about identity theft, or someone hacking into my frequent flyer accounts and stealing all of my hard earned miles.  They didn’t have the passwords, but they had my name, address, and could have some of my account numbers.  Shortly after getting off the call with the police, I changed my passwords on all of my major travel and bank loyalty accounts.

Rearview Mirror

Looking back I think the main reason for the call wasn’t because the officer was concerned about litter, or even the protection of my personal information.  I assume that once he saw a large trail of gift cards and money order receipts all kinds of red flags emerged for him, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.  It’s completely understandable, and I’m actually glad he called – for his peace of mind and mine. He was polite and professional, and fortunately had some familiarity with loyalty rewards systems.

I’m not sure what I could have done different to prevent a tough move from becoming even tougher.  A few weeks before my move, my paper shredder stopped working, and I wasn’t going to pay to shred thousands of plastic gift cards.  Also before moving, I called the city and county about shredding possibilities but they only did select days a few times a year to do bulk shredding.  Now that I have moved, I’m still trying to downsize, minimize and simplify my belongings.  Having dozens of boxes worth of plastic gift cards and receipts stacked to the ceiling again wouldn’t really be in line with those goals.  I’m glad I’m free of all those boxes, but it was a rough week.

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