BREAKING: American Express Shutting Down Bluebird & Serve Accounts for MS: What We Know & What We Don’t

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bluebird or serve

Bluebird & Serve Shutdowns

As they say, all good things must come to an end. Today, it seems that manufacturing spend with Bluebird and Serve may be mostly over. Many people including myself have received the following email on their accounts:

Dear Sad Manufactured Spender (Actually it said the cardholder’s name),

We are writing to let you know that we have observed unusual usage patterns on your American Express Serve Account. Because of this, effective immediately, you will no longer be able to add money to your Account.1 We have made this change in accordance with Section 15.d of our Consumer User Agreement, which you can view here.

Please be aware that you continue to have full access to the funds on your Account and can withdraw them at any time. Any applicable monthly fees continue to apply.

Once your balance reaches $0, please close your Account online via your Profile page accessible here. Scroll down to the Close Account section and click “Close Account.”

If you have any questions or would like to inquire further about this issue, you may write to us at the following address:

American Express
C/O Customer Relations 02-04-40
4315 S 2700 W
Salt Lake City, UT 84184-0440

Thanks,

The American Express Serve Team

As for the language they refer to, here is what it says (emphasis mine):

We, in our sole discretion, may limit your use of, suspend or terminate your privileges with respect to your Account (including your Reserve), Sub-Account, Card and/or Sub-Account Card with or without cause or notice, other than any notice required by Applicable Law, including in the event we believe there has been a breach in security or there has been unauthorized activity involving your Account or you have engaged in activity that is fraudulent or inappropriate (e.g., manufacture activity that is inconsistent with the intended use of the Account) or violates the terms of this User Agreement. We will only close your Account if there are no funds remaining in your Account (including your Reserve) or Sub-Account, unless you specifically instruct us to close your Account or Sub-Account with funds remaining, in which case, any remaining funds will be escheated to the applicable state in accordance with Applicable Law. Closure of your Account will prohibit your access to the Service.

Not All Accounts

I do want to be clear that not everyone has received these emails and we obviously don’t know exactly what “unusual usage patterns” are. It stands to reason that anyone who does multiple loads of certain dollar amounts and then cleans out their account shortly thereafter will be triggering this. I do know of people who have MSed with a Bluebird/Serve that haven’t yet received this email so any guess as to exactly why this is happening is simply speculation.

Good News?!?

I suppose the silver lining in all of this is that American Express is allowing people to access all of the funds in the account. In the past during shutdowns on similar cards from other issuers, funds could be tied up for quite some time. At least if you have thousands of dollars sitting in an account you can make one last sad bill payment.

Switching to Another Flavor?

At this point we simply don’t know if American Express will simply “blacklist” people from opening up another prepaid card if their current card was shutdown for this reason. This is another answer we probably will have within a few days. My guess is they won’t let you, but who knows.

How to Liquidate Now?

I maintain a resource on the site called How To Liquidate Prepaid Visa & Mastercard Gift CardsWhile I haven’t removed Bluebird/Serve yet, there are many other ways to liquidate these cards listed there. Not all of them are pleasant, but there is still hope if you have a lot of cards you are sitting on.

Conclusion

This is a very bad day for many including myself. I won’t try to sweeten this with a glass half full mentality since this is definitely a huge blow to manufactured spending. As we learn more about this new “change in policy” and how it is being enforced I’ll make sure to keep everyone up to date.

Thanks to all of the readers who wrote to me this morning to warn me of this.


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79 COMMENTS

    • Although I have a Serve card, I’ve rarely used it for MS. I personally feel that the Bluebird or Serve technique is too aggravating, inconsistent, and complicated. Buying money orders with gift cards has always helped me meet minimum spend. Never a real issue.

    • How many money order every month? I was told that if you deposit too many into your bank account they may close the account, true?? Can anybody comment?

  1. I received the same email this morning from AmEx. Wednesday night Kate accepted 3 of 4 $200 MetaBank Visa gift cards purchased at Staples, forcing me to return to WallyWorld a few hours later to successfully load card 4 at Kate. As a point of reference, I had loaded 2 MetaBank $200 Visa cards, also from Staples, on Sunday. I didn’t consider myself a big ms target, as loads typically ranged between $600 and $1,200 a month, only reaching $2,400 perhaps once when meeting minimum spend on a new card.

    • I average about 1k/month, and actually pay bills from BB, though I do clear out over half of the cash every 2-3 months. I got shut down today, too, so I think it’s a pretty broad sweep. : (((((
      Very sad day for me.

  2. So far, I seem to be safe. My only guess is that I actually did some real spending on my Serve cards. But who knows? Maybe I’ll get the dreaded email later today.

  3. Got the letter this morning too. I’ll try to close it down and apply in a few days and see what happens. I would withdraw my funds to my bank account sometimes (been doing this for a couple of years). I’m guessing that’s what got me shut down. A sad day nonetheless.

  4. They shut mine down too, but I used it how i was supposed to. No manufactured spend, I loaded via credit card, then paid bills. That’s what serve was made for. They can see what you’re paying… Mine is obviously legit if they actually looked into it. I think they are just getting rid of a product that doesn’t make them enough money. By wording it this way, they cover themselves legally, nobody can sue

    • I’m guessing the main intention of Serve was to have lower income people load with cash or debit and make purchases. If you loaded with cash and made many purchases only then you would be doing what they intended. They don’t make any money when you do BP only.

  5. “Dear Sad Manufactured Spender”??? A professional organization sent that out. A professional organization accused account holders of something? How isn’t that libelous?

      • the content of the letter, however, raises an interesting potential legal issue. Shawn, that line you highlighted from the t&c….

        “inappropriate (e.g., manufacture activity that is inconsistent with the intended use of the Account)”

        Serious, critical question for you or anyone who has a copy of their printed BB & Serve materials when they opened there accounts: was that line in there before? Or was this a line newly manufactured and inserted?

        If it’s “new,” then we’re being accused of doing something unseemly that they had not previously said was forbidden, or that they had permitted obviously for years….

        This had better not in any way reflect negatively on our credit reports…

        • It can’t for a prepaid product. The concern here is if Amex (and others) are now looking closer into weeding out all unprofitable accounts. Amex is already hemorrhaging over the last year and it’s not surprising if they’re prioritizing cost cutting over growth and subsequent risk. The real question is whether or not they’ll shift their attack on credit card accounts.

          I can only hope they don’t amend the terms and conditions of their credit cards and then close our account for similar reasons, which obviously can impact our credit.

  6. It’s a hacking job! Don’t click on the links in the email.

    Look at the email address I received it from

    These foreign hackers can’t spell!

    • funnnnny, and for a split sec., it made a certain amount of perverse sense, the ultimate phfishing operation…. but return address looks legit to me.

    • Just take them to your local supermarket and use them to purchase money orders, then deposit them into your bank account. Not only have I done it countless times, it’s been my choice for MS.

        • Do you think all supermarkets have the same policies? Where I live “supermarkets” are locally owned and operated grocery stores managed by people that probably have never heard of manufactured spending.

          • Forgot to mention this. If they’ve never heard of manufactured spending, that might be to your advantage. Just don’t tell them why you’re buying money orders. A couple of my friends thought I might be doing something illegal, when I told them about it. One of them, who rode to the supermarket with me, insisted on waitinh in the car lol.

        • Mostly, I use Winn-Dixie. Once or twice, I was able to buy them from Rouse’s, which is a local chain here in Louisiana. Im sure there are more that will allow me to do this, but these two stores are closest to me.

          I don’t know if the following two points matter or not, but when telling the store clerk that I want to purchase money orders, I never discuss upfront the form of payment I’ll be using. Once they tell me what I owe, that’s when I pull out my gift card and swipe it. If they happen to ask what form of payment you’re using, never refer to your card as a gift card. Just casually tell them, “I’m going to be using my debit card.” If they hear the words “gift card,” they might automatically turn you down. Some don’t realize that a pin-enabled Visa or MC gift card is essentially the same thing as a debit card.

        • Moderation is the key here. I’ve been depositing an avatar of two money orders a month for the past year, each money order totaling $400-500. Also, since sometime last year, I opened a checking account with Chase, while still keeping an account open with my original bank. I did this primarily to build a good relationship with Chase, with hopes that they’d offer me a Sapphire Preferred card. It worked. Since then, I’ve been depositing one (sometimes two) MO’s with each bank.

          Now, if one were to deposit only MO’s into an account, especially several at a time, that would arouse suspicion. But because I operate my own business, my cash deposits always greatly exceed the value of the MO’s deposited. Nobody has ever batted an eye.

          By no means am I an expert on manufactured spend. I just post what has worked for me. But I still think it would be rare for someone who deposits around two MO’s deposited in even one bank each month will get them shut down, as long as they also regularly deposit other forms of currency.

        • Walmart (at least the Walmarts here in the New Orleans area) only takes cash for money orders. And I’ve never had any success using Walmart for loading Bluebird or Serve, either.

  7. I had 2 of 3 BB’s “shut down”.

    My “spare” didnt have much activity, so that one was “spared”.

    IF that one isnt affected, I should be fine for my MS, since I only use it for “bonus” offers.

    Else, there’s always Money Orders.

  8. I used my serve card to load $1k per month from my fidelity Amex card. I then used bill pay to mail checks to pay bills and checks to myself. I was also purchasing items at stores with the serve card. I received this email today. I guess that was considered an unusual usage pattern. Is my serve account really going to be closed? I actually want to keep it so I could use the Amex Offers.

  9. Both of my serve accounts were shut today today even though I’ve only had them for a few months.

    Do you think that opening new accounts with other family members who haven’t had a serve account would be worth it or would they shut those down fairly quickly too?

  10. I was on my way to what I thought was going to be my best month of MS spend to date since I started the year off with a bang and maxed out my 1VIP which got axed this morning. My wife’s is just $200 shy of the max due to getting four $200 GCs. Both of course, have spend that warrants the shutdown now that Amex finally decided to stop us. It was fun while it lasted between Redbird and Serve. At least I can still pull the cash out. Now, back to researching other (less easy) alternatives. Family Dollar, Rite-Aid, and Simon mall will miss me.

    On a tangential note, I heard from my Simon mall clerk that mine might stop selling $500 cards since they aren’t reported as profit for them for some weird reason. They might limit the max amount. Kind of moot till I find an easy-ish way of liquidating them.

  11. This is not some foreign hack as some have suggested – it is legit. If you call the number on the back of your card they will be able to access the email sent The person I spoke with at AMEX indicated they are powerless to do anything. They suggested I write the address in the email, but my guess is that will only generate a form letter.

  12. I have (had) 2 serves, 2 bb. I would load and bill pay on all 4 every month. I only received the email for one of my serves. I just tried to load one of my “active” bb, didnt work. Got a message that said, “debit not approved – call authorizer”

    Even after that, I still went to staples and bought 4x $200 vgs for the rebate. Do I need professional help?

    • Dang….

      That means my “spare” BB likely isnt going to work either.

      I’ll give it a try with ONE Staples VGC, otherwise, move on. (No sense crying over spilt milk etc).

      Ah, well. Onto MO’s……

  13. Damn. Still need to clear $2,500 this month for a card sign-up bonus. I used to always leave around $1,000 balance on BlueBird, so it’s not like they weren’t making money off my account, since AMEX earns interest on that money.

    • If you need to cross a threshold for a minimum spend limit, it still might make sense to purchase the gift card(s). I was thinking about this today as Acme was offering $15 off of $150 or more in gift card purchases. While $500 + $5.95 sounds painful, with their coupon offer (limit one per phone number stored in their app) it’s $491. If you use a credit card that earned bonus points on grocery spend, that really is $482 (2%) or potentially $466 (5%). While some of us have credit cards that earn 2% on anything, being able to find some gift cards, even in low volume, can net some benefit.
      I will miss BlueBird/Serve. I had the checks from when they offered checks for free, but I will shred them now.

  14. It will be interesting to see data points over the next few days/weeks in order to determine why accounts were flagged. Two immediate family members’ accounts were shut down today and there’s a definite pattern; max loads AND zero balance per month, round number (VCG) loads and a limited number of payees. My personal account, which is also maxed loaded per month AND used for approximately a dozen bill pays per month was left alone (for now).

    • Since closing Redbirds, I’ve been loading the full 6k on 2 serve cards since June, but the last two months only the online 1k load. But on one card I’ve kept a balance each month of over 5k. I only unload using bill pay or for Amex offer purchases. Shut down.

      The second card never did bill pay, only transfer to another serve account or check sent to family. That one is still alive.

    • Originally thought my personal BB was spared, only to find out otherwise while trying to load two VCGs today. After confirming it with AMEX, I can’t say I’m surprised. With all the bad news AMEX has had these past few months, belt tightening was probably required on their part. I’d be shocked if this was a one time sweep. This one’s gonna sting, but life goes on, just as it did when Vanilla Reloads died. Dedicated hobbyists always find another avenue.

  15. First thing that comes to mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnEPTG6K4pY

    In all seriousness, we lost the ability to:

    1) Liquidate gift cards
    2) Online CC loads
    -> 1-2% cb
    -> having $1k/mo minimum spend requirement satisfied
    3) Ability to use as DD requirement for bank bonuses/fees
    4) means of meeting debit card monthly requirements (like 12/mo by LMCU)

    Plus we don’t know what the deal is with Amex Offers. Even if we do have that ability, the other possible issue of P2P transfers to help keep an account funded comes into play. I tested, successfully, a P2P transfer an hour ago.

    2016 Churning/MS news has taken the wind from my sails and I’m not at all motivated right now. The Ebay lull (January Ebay bucks redemption month) doesn’t help either. Perhaps that’ll change, but one silver lining is it’ll give me a bit more time to establish new habits and new years resolutions I’m working on.

    P.S. Anyone looking towards GoBank may be disappointed. You’re likely to waste your time as they’re quick to pull the plug on any MS activities. This is coming from data points sprinkled online so take that for what it’s worth.

    @ Shawn

    Maybe we should look at the bright side in that we’ll be able to better stay organized with a lot less cards and Amex Offers to juggle. =/

  16. Data point:

    I’ve been using my BB and my son’s BB for MS. $5K per month through both for the past several months.

    My BB got the email, my son’s has not yet.

    Only real difference is that his account is newer than mine (mine opened in April 2013, his opened in November 2015).

    I do have two other kids … 🙂

  17. Before I read the blogs I called about the email to make sure it wasn’t a phishing email. Turns out it was real obviously. The CSR told me that I could open a new account but I should not do what they had considered to be suspicious (what that was, they couldn’t say). So at the time I thought it was my daily debit loads to meet my 25/month requirement for my credit union.

    Since that wasn’t it, I’m reopening and just using it for my debit loads; topping off with a gc or credit card each month and then making a purchase.

    I think the big loads followed by billpay and withdrawals did it. My wife’s card has had a total of 2500 loaded onto it and 1500 withdrawn with the rest as purchases since she opened it. I think the lack of bp kept it alive.

  18. I recently noticed that new bluebird accounts can’t link to an external checking or savings anymore. This was the original and only reason I got one of these cards to begin with–it allows me to make cash deposits to free online checking accounts effectively solving the problem of branchless cash deposits. I’m suspicious that this is what’s happening to everyone, that all the old accounts–the loyal people of the brand–with linked external accounts and where funds are deposited and withdrawn repeatedly without us doing much spending has come to an end. And they really don’t need a reason to just close our account…oh not close I was told, but just rendered useless in that I can’t deposit anymore. Which is the same as shutting me down.

    I don’t really get why companies don’t just make a product or charge for consumers behavior instead of ripping it apart when people use it in ways where they make no money. I’d pay for that service, wtf…

  19. So other than money orders, it sounds like there is no good way left to MS? I confess that I have no idea how the money order method works.

  20. “Darn ,darn, darn , darny , darn ” (from the Lego movie ) . I had plans , boy , I really had plans . At least I’m not buried in min. spend requirements right now .

  21. Well darn. I have been busy and hadn’t gotten around to switching from RedBird to Serve for awhile and got my first time NEW SERVE in the mail the same day everyone got this shut down e-mail. Now curious if this sweep will continue or was just one big sweep. Trying to decide how to play this card to not get the account closed.

    Any suggestions on starting out today with a FRESH account?

  22. I got the email yesterday but my partner didn’t. He did just as much MS as I did if not more. We rushed out yesterday morning to Walmart and used the machine to load his account and the money was not loaded even though the machine went through all the steps and it appeared as if the GCs got loaded. So even if you didn’t receive the email your account was probably terminated.

    • The other possibility is that Walmart might have finally programmed it in their systems not to allow gc to be loaded. Has anyone that didn’t receive the letter tried to load their Serve with cash or a regular debit card to see if that still works?

      • I loaded my Serve at Rite Aid successfully yesterday. I did not receive any notice. I haven’t been loading into my BB for the last month since the Walmart by me stopped accepting GC for loads.0

  23. I was able to find old language to the Serve card as of 9-11-15 when the various flavors of Serve were introduced and the “Manufacture” language was not present in the terms. However, they did reference Manufacturing regarding their cash-back Serve card. Here is the link to the prior terms: https://web.archive.org/web/20150911024904/https://www.serve.com/legal/CashBack/#suspension

    Here is the language from the earlier T&C’s:

    d. Suspension of Use; Cancellation; Closure.
    We, in our sole discretion, may limit your use of, suspend or terminate your privileges with respect to your Account (including your Reserve), Sub-Account, Card and/or Sub-Account Card with or without cause or notice, other than any notice required by Applicable Law, including in the event we believe there has been a breach in security or there has been unauthorized activity involving your Account or you have engaged in activity that violates the terms of this User Agreement. We will only close your Account if there are no funds remaining in your Account (including your Reserve) or Sub-Account, unless you specifically instruct us to close your Account or Sub-Account with funds remaining, in which case, any remaining funds will be escheated to the applicable state in accordance with Applicable Law. Closure of your Account will prohibit your access to the Service.

    If we decide to close or suspend use of your Account or Sub-Account (which closure will result in termination of your privileges with respect to the associated Card and/or Sub-Account Card), we will send an email to the primary email address we have in our records for you. Upon closure of your Account and/or Sub-Account (and termination of your privileges with respect to the associated Card and/or Sub-Account Card), you must immediately discontinue use of your Account and/or Sub-Account and associated Card and/or Sub-Account Card, as applicable. Our closure of your Account and/or Sub-Account (and termination of your privileges with respect to the associated Card and/or Sub-Account Card) will not affect your obligations under this Agreement.

  24. I got shut down email 2days ago too. Today I’ve used all balance to pay my bill and closed account . Sad!

    • Today March 4, I received that exact email. I do not use my Bluebird for points at all. I merely deposit cash and pay bills. I do not use to purchase at retailers. I am pretty annoyed and wrote them a letter to reopen my account as I did nothing wrong.

      • Writing will likely do not much else other than prompt American Express to change their terms and conditions. First Niagara recently closed accounts that only received a few small deposits, two withdrawals. I was more than happy to earn 1.01% in their Companion Savings, enjoy waived ATM fees, free checks if I needed them. Unfortunately First Niagara has it in their terms and conditions that they can close any account at any time, for any reason, and they do not have to disclose why they have closed the account.

      • Complaining will likely not make much of a difference. If anything, they’ll just modify their terms and conditions to state that they can close an account at any time for any reason. (I dealt with First Niagara for a short time; they were unwilling to even state why they were closing the account and just said that the T&C I agreed to allowed them to close the account)

  25. Helpful discussion , I Appreciate the insight , Does anyone know where my business might be able to grab a blank a form form to fill out ?

  26. I just received the notice. I don’t even do MS (Manufactured Spending for anyone wondering). Mine was unauthorized fraud. Reported the card lost or stolen, and within 24 hours, BAM received the notice along with confirmation the dispute had been cancelled and no funds would be returned. Thanks an F of a lot! Is this notice just a form letter basically? They don’t want to bother doing a proper investigation so they just cancel accounts for the hell of it with no source of appeal other than writing a damn letter? What about the money that was stolen from me?? Is there a contact number where we can have something done rather than relying on what is undoubtedly a backed up system that may take weeks or months to hear back about?

  27. Yeah my husband got that e-mail yesterday, he couldn’t log into his account or anything. And every person he got a hold of told him the same thing….They don’t know the exact reason for closing it but that he can WRITE a letter, didn’t even offer a e-mail to contact them!! And really I could care less because it’s just another PrePaid card, but what really pisses me off is that they did it ONE day before we were supposed to have our Tax Refund deposited onto his card!! Now there is no telling what is going to happen!!

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