Contact 6: Prepaid debit cards popular, have downsides

Tens of millions of people carry prepaid debit cards in their wallets, and experts say it’s possible even more people will do so in the future.

However, when some card users ran into customer service problems, they turned to Contact 6 for help.

If you walk into many retailers in southeastern Wisconsin, you’re likely to find a display of cards. Several of those cards are prepaid debit cards, and among the most popular is Green Dot.

Green Dot cards are issued by Green Dot Bank, which is a "branchless bank" with more than 90,000 retail distribution locations nationwide. Green Dot offers a variety of FDIC-insured banking products.

Prepaid debit cards allow the "bankless," meaning people without traditional bank accounts, to make purchases in a world increasingly dependent on electronic payments. The cardholder can load money onto the card at a retail location and the card is accepted almost universally.

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Judy Radtke wrote to Contact 6 after her prepaid card was frozen for fraud concerns, and she couldn’t access a social security payment deposited onto the card. She’d made calls to customer service but wasn’t getting results.

"I was very discouraged, very angry when they wouldn’t go any further," said Radtke.

After Contact 6 sent an email on Radtke’s behalf, Radtke said Green Dot sent her money back to the Social Security Administration. She says the payment was reissued to her new bank account.

A Green Dot spokesperson told Contact 6: "For customer privacy and protection, we don’t share specifics related to individual cases or incidents. I can confirm, however, that we’ve been in touch with the customer and have directed her to Social Security for resolution."

Five people have written to Contact 6 this year about customer service issues with prepaid cards.

One woman wrote that she couldn’t access a stimulus payment deposited onto her prepaid card. She said her issue was resolved after Contact 6 reached out on her behalf.

Brenda Campbell, president and CEO of Secure Futures, said prepaid cards are convenient and easy to obtain.

"You're at the grocery store, you’re at the drug store or big box store, they’re right at the checkout," said Campbell.

Brenda Campbell

Brenda Campbell

There’s no credit check to obtain a prepaid card. There’s no lengthy application and no risk of credit card debt. The cards are useful for anyone sticking to a strict budget.

Green Dot cards are designed to meet the needs of low-to-moderate-income people living paycheck to paycheck who could benefit from having a secure card for purchases.

However, some viewers told Contact 6 they ran into trouble when they tried to access customer service.

"That's where we’re hearing about all the problems that people are having with getting a response," said Campbell.

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If a consumer has an issue with a bank’s debit card, they can simply visit the bank’s nearest branch and ask for help. However, if they have an issue with a prepaid debit card, there’s no brick-and-mortar location they can visit to seek a resolution. In many cases, their only option is to reach out to customer service by phone or computer.

"It may take some time and if you need that cash quick, it’s going to be very difficult to do that," said Dr. Kent Belasco, director of Marquette University’s commercial banking program.

Belasco said the more society moves away from cash, the more people who rely on cash may need prepaid cards.

"That's a group that needs to get more into the banking world," said Belasco.

Dr. Kent Belasco

Dr. Kent Belasco

Green Dot does have customer service via chat, phone and email.

One viewer wrote to Contact 6 that she called "several times a day to only get different answers." She claims she was the victim of fraud, and so far, has gotten half her money back.

"If you’re dependent on what is on that card, that can be very difficult," said Belasco.

In response to complaints about customer service, a Green Dot spokesperson told Contact 6:

"We are committed to serving, supporting and protecting our customers and their accounts through these unprecedented times. That includes increased investments in the overall customer experience, including enhanced support channels, communications, training and personnel, fraud protection and prevention, and more. This has been an ongoing process and priority for the past year-plus, since our new CEO took over in early 2020…we take these matters seriously and are committed to delivering the access and support customers need."

The spokesperson also stressed "the importance of (card users) understanding our products and how they work, and taking the appropriate steps to protect accounts and personal information."

If you use a prepaid card, never share your card number or PIN, as the cards are targeted by scammers. Read the fine print, especially when it comes to extra fees. Also, keep your receipts in case any issues arise.

For tips and tools to help keep customers’ accounts protected from scammers, visit go2bank.com.

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