Automatic Card Reload

By Henry Bagdasarian

A while back, I started using the automatic card reload feature offered by Starbucks to automatically load money on their store card which can be used for in store purchases. I first started using the Starbucks store card years ago to take advantage of their two hours free internet service and same store free coffee refills. Even though Starbucks no longer requires a store card to access the Internet, they require customers to login for accessing the Internet which makes me think about switching stores. But since they still honor free refills and give points, I continue to use the card to accumulate points for free drinks and food, including an extra food or drink on birthday.

I first loaded a store gift card with cash and registered the card online. Subsequently, I only used that card for purchases and loaded the card with cash or credit card at the store when sufficient funds were no longer available. Later, I started using the online app feature to automatically transfer $25 from my checking account using my debit card to my Starbucks card each time my Starbucks card funds went below $20 to make sure my card is always adequately funded and ready for purchases.

There are however difference in benefits between using the store card and using the automatic card reload utility. As I mentioned, you can use the store card to get free coffee refills, and, you can use the automatic reload utility to avoid carrying cash and other credit cards. Both have benefits but are independent of each other. In other words, you don’t have to use the auto reload option to get free refills and internet access.

As using a store card provides great benefits, some of the related options such as online funding may also introduce risks. Thinking back, I’m not sure the automatic card reload helps me as much as it helps the merchant. Let me explain why. With the auto reload option, I provided my debit card information online to Starbucks which it uses to load my card per my instructions; add $20 to my store card when the card balance goes below $20. I’m certain that there are other people who keep a higher card balance which must help the merchant a lot with up front funding for its operations. But this is a case where I as a consumer take a moderate identity theft and fraud risk in exchange for low benefits. Other than avoiding to carry cash or credit card for my coffee purchases, which I still carry around anyway, there is no other benefit for me to continue using the automatic card reload option. I can just easily pay cash to reload my card when I need more funds. This is a very good example of how we become identity obese whereby we are offered more options to share our information in exchange for some benefits, however, the benefits may not always equal the risks we take, and this is why I encourage others to always assess the risks of their actions and how their actions can expose them to identity theft and fraud for little or no benefit.

There are many companies which offer similar services to consumers but I’m not sure if companies adequately explain the benefits and the risks of their services to consumers. I’m sure many people just sign up with these services and fail to think about the consequences or the worthiness of the benefits when compared to the potential risks.

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