Response to commentator on Amazon’s theft of $2,200 gift card balance purchased with cash at Walgreens

I received the following comment on my website from a commentator who purportedly suffered a theft by Amazon of their $2,200 gift card balance purchased with cash at Walgreens:

omg please tell me you can help me. here is quick version of what happened

I buy $2,200 in gift cards with cash at Wal greens to make a purchase on amazon with. I load the giftcardds to my amazon account and then I have AMAZON ask me to verify my account, I verify it then AMAZON asks for the bank to fax them proof of my name address and account. My bank is a prepaid Green Dot card and there terms are not to fax my info to anyone, even amazon.

6 weeks later of me faxing the info to amazon and them playing games saying they need the bank to do it. I call amazon up and tell them the bank doesn’t send out my personal info. and we do this whole circle for 8 weeks or so.

Amazon closes my account now for no reason and stole the gift card balance in my account.
I have receipt where I bought all the giftcards with CASH. and they still tell me I wont get it back

I responded as follows:

Amazon has been unprofitable for many years and only recently has become profitable, so they steal gift card balances as a way of improving profitability. It’s illegal, but no government officials care or do anything about it and even the general public assumes people deserved to have their gift card balance stolen.

With Green Dot as your bank, they probably provide you with statements online or by mail, so I would have faxed them a statement myself (although they asked for the fax to come from the bank rather than you, they might not have noticed the difference). I see that you did this and they claimed they needed it direct from the bank… but the low-level Amazon employees that handle this probably don’t know Green Dot’s fax number.

I have had a couple times where a corporation asked me to have a bank fax them a personalized letter indicating some information about me which banks will usually not do… I used to use NetSpend savings accounts to earn 5% interest and they ended up (after several years) freezing my accounts and demanding a fax from Chase Bank attesting to my legitimacy, which a veteran employee at Chase said they could not provide and she had never heard of a bank asking for this. I ended up getting my money back after explaining to the NetSpend corporate employee that this was ridiculous and I would file complaints and sue in small claims court if necessary, and that I had fought Amazon before and won.

Keep your Walgreens receipt and scan + photocopy it just to be safe. File complaints against Amazon with your state attorney general, the Washington state attorney general, and even the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Of course, if you try to go to a consumer advocate like Elliott.org they are going to say something like “he’s obviously a drug dealer—why would anyone buy $2,200 of Amazon gift cards with cash.” Caveat emptor.

A Ratio for the Relative Climate Change Impact of an Economic Activity

I wrote a three-page paper and submitted it to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) on a ratio for climate change impact using gasoline as as an example.

A Ratio for the Relative Climate Change Impact of an Economic Activity
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida

Abstract
I propose a ratio for assessing the climate change impact of an economic activity as a function of global greenhouse gas emissions and annual gross world product. To construct a simple example, I consider only CO2 emissions and use the purchase and combustion of gasoline. I show that it has a ratio of 8.82:1 in the United States as of March 6, 2019 at a national average price of $2.44 per gallon. This means that in consideration of the direct impacts of gasoline’s combustion alone, gasoline would have to cost $21.50 per gallon in order to achieve a 1:1 ratio. Other applications of the ratio and its impact are discussed.

Keywords: climate change, co2, greenhouse gas emissions, economics, fossil fuels, relative harm, carbon taxes

You can download the paper on SSRN (free account required) or by clicking here.

Distance education and telecommuting can slow climate change

Although the recent IGI Global academic anthology that I am a co-editor of, Handbook of Research on Emerging Practices and Methods for K–12 Online and Blended Learning, does not mention climate change at all, in fact virtual schools can help slow down climate change. Teaching and learning from home, also known as distance education, like working from home, which is referred to as telecommuting, reduces carbon emissions by reducing travel.

As I have written previously, the United States emits over five billion tonnes of CO2 per year, almost a third of which are from transportation. Preventing transportation from occurring, therefore, is an important way to slow down climate change. Although an enormous amount of CO2 is nonetheless being emitted and has already been emitted, this does not mean we should succumb to the “all or nothing” fallacy and concede that it is pointless to do anything offering amelioration.

Research has shown that distance education produces similar academic achievement to in-person education. Florida has pioneered and continues to lead in K–12 distance education with Florida Virtual School, through which students of all grade levels can take some or all of their classes from home. Distance education is not an all-or-nothing proposition; it is perfectly sensible for online learning to involve occasional face-to-face meetings and for a mix of online, face-to-face, and blended courses to be offered.

Although broadband Internet connectivity and computers are widespread, and many workers are now “knowledge” workers rather than doing location-dependent work, the majority of workers and students continue to show up in-person, and are often obliged to. Online work is perennially criticized for stifling valuable in-person interactions, but it is perfectly reasonable for many schools and firms to meet once a week or even biweekly rather than five days a week.

As a student and instructor at University of Central Florida, I have taken and taught the majority of my courses in fully online or blended modalities. Although I did elect to take mixed-mode courses several times, particularly in my Master’s program, even when fully online courses were available, the weekly or occasional meetings allowed me to make friends, ask questions in person, and participate in many educational projects. Commuting from almost 60 miles away in the Daytona Beach area, I was always aware that each round-trip emitted almost 100 lbs. of carbon dioxide, however (2,205 lbs. is a tonne).

Especially in the current strong economy, construction is booming. New housing, commercial buildings, and road expansion projects are happening everywhere. None of this is sustainable and much of it is ill-advised. Cement, concrete’s key ingredient, produces about three tonnes, or 8%, of annual global CO2 emissions. Steel production produces another 5% of CO2 emissions. Buildings, bridges, and roads are often made out of concrete and steel. Distance education and telecommuting can reduce the demand for cement, steel, cars, and fossil fuels.

Particularly in the United States, but throughout the world, most of the costs of driving a car are not assessed to the motorist. Of course, the carbon footprint and damage to the earth is not priced in, but also, the costs of roads and infrastructure are borne collectively by taxpayers but not charged incrementally. If these costs were all priced in, people would be traveling far less and clamoring for distance education and telecommuting. Any competent transportation planner knows of the phenomenon of induced demand, where widening a road results in more motorists miraculously turning out, making trips they wouldn’t have before due to congestion. Although Tesla drivers are helping reduce carbon emissions and increase production of lithium-ion battery cells, driving still requires roads made out of asphalt and concrete, and more driving prompts more expansion and repair of roads. Reducing travel is important.


Picture this: Children going to school one day a week instead of five, while the rest of their learning is done at home. Schools are much smaller in size, because each student has a certain day of the week when they go to school in-person and only about 20% of the student body shows up on any particular day. Children learn 21st-century skills while continuing to get valuable in-person interactions with other students and teachers, which are rendered special and precious due to only occurring once a week. Although parents previously relied on schools for childcare, now many of them are working from home too and only going to the office one day a week or even less. People are getting out for walks, talking with their neighbors, and organizing neighborhood events instead of driving out-of-town for work and socialization.

Going to the cubicle or classroom five days a week was a downer anyway, so people are now feeling happier and more well-adjusted while also emitting far less CO2. In Orlando, a massive freeway expansion project called I-4 Ultimate was just completed, but the 12-lane highway is never used to capacity and the congestion-priced toll lanes are producing little to no revenue. Attorneys for the 40-year public–private partnership to pay for the $2.5 billion project via toll revenues are currently working from home, drafting papers for a bankruptcy filing.


The recent, catastrophic destruction by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida was a call to action on several levels. One of these was to improve the building codes. Although building codes have already gotten far more rigorous in south Florida to withstand higher categories of hurricanes, Central Florida and the panhandle have lagged behind due to strong hurricanes rarely if ever striking. Due to climate change, this has changed. Ironically, building stronger structures emits more carbon dioxide, which turns into a vicious circle. Wood structures are replaced by masonry, and concrete blocks become solid and reinforced with steel. More trees are cleared and structures must be rebuilt from scratch after each disaster, emitting even more CO2, while the oceans reach their CO2 saturation point and polar ice melts releasing fantastic quantities of CO2 and methane. It’s pure madness.

The CO2 situation is dire, and the idea of “slowing” climate change is not unlike saying we cut the U.S. national debt by merely slowing its rate of increase. But, we are not even cutting the rate of increase; in fact, 2018 CO2 emissions increased 3.4% in the United States in 2018. The levels have already been outrageous for decades and continue to go up.

When we are at school or work, our house or apartment, in whole or part, is going unused. When roads are expanded, peak demand is being accommodated at the busiest times of the day, while the roads remain almost unused at night and below capacity during mid-day. When a new concrete mega-church is planted to go unused and locked most of the week, with a massive asphalt parking lot to boot, it is a travesty. There are eight parking spaces for every car in America—a CO2 nightmare—but of course, none of them are ever in the right place at the right time. The time for distance education and telecommuting is now.

I know that schools in Florida are also used as hurricane shelters, but even if we were to stop building and replacing schools due to distance education, churches can pick up some of the slack.


Like many Bay Area workers, my mother lives near Fremont, California and commutes on BART to San Francisco, 4–5 days a week. She works for the San Francisco government in a job that is completely computer-oriented, but only gets to work from home occasionally. Although she fully relies on walking and BART to get to and from work, there are plenty of days when she would prefer not to get up before 7 a.m. and be gone 12 hours due to over two hours of commuting. No one can actually afford to live in San Francisco, so technology workers, teachers, and countless others commute from cheaper areas each day, to do work that could be done from anywhere. Why?

Automattic, Matt Mullenweg’s company that is behind WordPress and many other interesting and useful projects, has about 700 employees, the vast majority of which work remotely. (You are currently reading a WordPress-powered blog by a 27 year old who developed a popular WordPress plugin as a teenager, with over a quarter-million downloads, but then got bored with it and abandoned the project.) Although Automattic’s employees do fly to 1–3 meetups per year, which is horrible for the earth (there are no electric airplanes), in principal this fits with my idea of having occasional face-to-face meetings with most work being by telecommute. If you get lonely, you can always go to the nearest Starbucks, which probably isn’t much of a commute because they are almost everywhere.


I hope you have enjoyed reading my ideas here, many of which were regurgitated from other sources, although I have not seen many suggest distance education and telecommuting as a multi-pronged approach toward reducing CO2 emissions. As further reading, I suggest Losing Earth at the Pulitzer Center’s website.

Capital One 360 Money Market OFFER500 $500 Incentive Bait-and-Switch

June 2019 update: Capital One has capitulated. They have issued checks to all affected customers!

Recently I have been in dispute with Capital One regarding a promotional offer for opening and funding a Money Market account. Anyone who has read my website or Google searches my name knows that I am not one to back down when being ripped off by a large corporation. I have gone up against Amazon.com, Bank of America, MetroPCS, and others I can’t even recall, and I rarely lose. It is not that I am seeking being defrauded, but that in America, large corporations basically operate like it is the Wild West, reneging on contractually obligated terms with condescension, glee, and no fear of reprisal or even public opinion. I am seriously considering switching from Republican to Democrat and voting for Elizabeth Warren, as Trump has done nothing but enable the corporate fleecing of individual Americans by gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and many other laws and regulatory bodies.


I opened a Capital One 360 Money Market account # [redacted] on September 7, 2018 using promotion code OFFER500, and fulfilled the requirements of this offer with cumulative deposits as of October 15, 2018. Although the required 60 days have passed, Capital One contends I am ineligible for the $500 incentive due to not depositing $50,000 all at once. However, the terms of the offer were plainly written and do not require the deposits to be made all at once:

Here’s the full scoop on how to earn your $500 bonus: Open a 360 Money Market account and deposit at least $50,000 between 12:00 a.m. ET on September 1, 2018, and 11:59 p.m. ET on October 31, 2018. When you open your account, enter your promotional code—OFFER500. (Please do not share this code with others.) Deposits must be from another bank (transfers between Capital One accounts will not qualify).

My deposits were in excess of $50,000, came from external banks, and were completed on October 15, 2018. I am writing to request fulfillment of the $500 bonus per the offer terms.

Capital One has been nothing but rude and condescending to me. They say on the phone that I’m mistaken, that the terms haven’t changed and always said cycling is not allowed even though I demonstrated orally and in writing that this is false. They rebutted my CFPB complaint which was summarily closed, and I’ve already written up the small claims filing form and sent it to them two months ago but they told me on the phone to go ahead and try suing them. No offer of a consolation $200 like others got, and no offer to be eligible for another bonus in the future (prior account holders are barred from receiving a promotional incentive, even if they didn’t receive a promotional incentive for their prior account).

I am going to go with the Florida and Delaware attorney general complaints, BBB, et cetera before suing, as suing is a hassle with serving the summons on their registered agent and paying a large filing fee. I stated multiple times in letters and on the phone that I know they paid out the $500 bonus automatically to all customers up until September 21, 2018 who did the same sort of deposits that I did, but they wouldn’t admit to this or even address it.

Their attorney is wrong—they are in violation of laws on deceptive business practices and probably the Uniform Commercial Code too. If it was a business account that charges a fee based on deposit volume and you cycled deposits, they would still charge fees on the full totals of the deposits.

A key part of the terms is that it says $50,000 in “deposits must be from another bank” (plural). Also note that another offer, CELEBRATE (PDF), uses different terms “$500 bonus — you maintained a daily balance of $50,000 or more for the first 90 days following the Initial Funding Period.” But, both OFFER500 (PDF) and OFFER200 (PDF) do not require the 90 days balance nor mention of balance or withdrawals disqualifying one for the incentive. I brought this up on phone calls and in writing and they don’t even respond or address it.

My CFPB complaint was answered by an employee named Jonathan who signed and printed his response letter both with only his first name and would not give his last name on the phone. I then complained by email to Kleber Santos, President, Retail & Direct Bank at Capital One, who referred the issue back to Jonathan. Jonathan called me and was most patronizing and rude in explaining (incorrectly) that I misunderstood the terms and that Capital One will not be paying anything, and he told me to go ahead and try suing them when I brought up the possibility of a small claims lawsuit.

In the CFPB response letter, Jonathan lists all of my deposit and withdrawal activity and states:

As a result of this activity, your 360 Money Market balance didn’t reach at least $50,000.00, the balance requirement necessary for earning the $500.00 bonus. To successfully earn the $500.00 bonus and have it post within 60 days after completion, your 360 Money Market needed to be externally funded and have a total balance of at least $50,000.00 by October 31, 2018, at 11:59 PM ET.

As a result, we will not be honoring the posting of a $500.00 bonus to your 360 Money Market.


At every step in communicating by phone and in writing to Capital One and the CFPB I have explained the mismatch in terms, including attaching a PDF file each time of the terms as displayed when I opened the account which do not contain the language about the balance of the account needing to reach $50,000.00 at any single point in time. As the terms were in actuality written, there is only a requirement that deposits between September 1, 2018 and October 31, 2018 sum to $50,000.00 or more and come from external banks. The terms had no mention of intervening withdrawals not being allowed. Capital One will not address this nor will they address that they were in fact paying out bonuses to all customers up until September 21, 2018, and made no attempt to retroactively debit the bonus from these customers.


Why “Crapital” One is a fitting moniker

Online, Capital One is derogatorily referred to as Crapital One, and this is well deserved. Capital One loves suing its customers in small claims court—they sued more than 500,000 individual customers per year in 2008, 2009, and 2010 for debts much smaller than most credit card issues would sue for. It is no wonder they are not afraid of being sued, as they obviously have an expansive network of attorneys and paralegals to handle suing individual customers en masse. In small claims court, they are almost universally the plantiff rather than the defendant. This is in diametric opposition to common perceptions of small claims court being a venue for consumers to seek financial justice against large corporations. The Center for Responsible Lending has challenged Capital One in an amicus brief to a federal appeals court regarding Capital One’s “misleading overdraft fee practice” to deduct the maximum amount from customers’ deposit accounts. It should not be a surprise that an overdrawn Capital One account, even by just a few dollars, will invariably cascade into hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees that Capital One is happy to sue their customers in small claims court for.

Capital One should be avoided. ING Direct was a fine bank before Capital One acquired them, rebranded as Capital One 360, and changed the modus operandi to ripping customers off rather than helping them. If you, too, are a victim of Capital One, I suggest emailing their executives, and complaining, both publicly and in private, through regulatory agencies, the court, social media, personal websites, et cetera. Not only do they systematically prey on subprime customers in an organized fashion—they brazenly act in bad faith against detail-oriented, rule-following customers like myself.

The simple solution would be for them to honor their terms as written for past customers and adjust the terms for future customers. But no—Capital One continues their bait-and-switch scheme even after the backlash they are experiencing on the OFFER500 debacle. They continue to offer a similar promotion, OFFER200, which substitutes a $200 bonus for $10,000 in deposits with otherwise identical terms:

https://www.capitalone.com/offer200/ (PDF)

Here’s the full scoop on how to earn your $200 bonus: Open a 360 Money Market account and deposit at least $10,000 between 12:00 a.m. ET on between December 12, 2018, and 11:59 p.m. ET on March 31, 2019. When you open your account, enter your promotional code—OFFER200. (Please do not share this code with others.) Deposits must be from another bank (transfers between Capital One accounts will not qualify). If you have or had an open savings product with Capital One after January 1, 2016, you’re ineligible for the bonus. This offer cannot be combined with any other Capital One Bank or Capital One 360 new account opening offer. Bonus is only valid for one account.

When will I actually get my bonus? Capital One will deposit the $200 bonus into your account within 60 days after completing the above conditions. If your account is in default, closed, or suspended, or otherwise not in good standing, you will not receive the bonus.

They could easily stipulate that the account must attain a $10,000 balance during the promotion period. Their employees and executives erroneously purport that the terms say that, which they do not. As written, one who does not have $10,000 on-hand should be able to receive the bonus by making deposits from another bank and withdrawals to another bank (e.g., “cycling”) of smaller amounts which in aggregate sum to $10,000 or more of deposits during the promotion period. Although the terms say “transfers between Capital One accounts will not qualify,” they do not say that transfers between Capital One accounts and external banks do not qualify. Moreover, they were paying out such bonuses programmatically and automatically to customers who cycled deposits up until September 21, 2018, when someone in marketing or loss prevention must have noticed they could be saving quite a bit of money by not doing this. But, where is the requisite change in terms? Nowhere to be found, even in Capital One’s new promotions, which makes this nothing less than a bait-and-switch. Theirs is a deceptive and misleading business practice in violation of contractually obliged terms—terms which Capital One could easily adjust and currently are quite concise and clear—in opposition to their contentions to the contrary. Shameful.

June 2019 update: Capital One has capitulated. They have issued checks to all affected customers!

Announcement on IGI Global Handbook of Research on Emerging Practices and Methods for K–12 Online and Blended Learning

Book Cover

I am proud to announce the release of our new Handbook of Research on Emerging Practices and Methods for K–12 Online and Blended Learning published by IGI Global.

Heafner, T. L., Hartshorne, R., & Thripp, R. (Eds.). (2019). Handbook of research on emerging practices and methods of K–12 online and blended learning. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-8009-6

My statement on the handbook:
I worked extensively on editing the handbook for writing quality, fact-checking, and APA style. At the same time, I enjoyed learning about virtual schools and blended learning across the country. There is something for everyone in this handbook—teachers, administrators, teacher educators, instructional designers, program and curriculum developers, and more. The researchers and practitioners in this compendium are at the cutting edge of fully online and blended learning pedagogies, practices, and technologies, not only in teaching K–12 students and preservice teachers, but also in offering professional development workshops on moving coursework online, stimulating critical thought, and facilitating deep learning. The handbook is rounded out with chapters with case studies in online pedagogies, tools, and strategies for specific subject areas, such as mathematics, science, and social studies. As K–12 learning is increasingly centered around online technologies and resources, this handbook is both timely and relevant, particularly with respect to the nationwide deficit in K–12 online teaching courses, certificates, programs, and continuing education opportunities.

Autobiographical statement:
Richard Thripp is a doctoral candidate and graduate teaching associate in the College of Community Innovation and Education at the University of Central Florida. He has instructed over 200 students in EME 2040: Introduction to Technology for Educators on the use of Web technologies in K–12 teaching practice. Richard’s primary research interest is in the improvement of individual financial literacy through education and behavioral approaches. He holds an M.A. in Applied Learning and Instruction and a certificate in Advanced Quantitative Methodologies in Educational and Human Sciences from the University of Central Florida.

Writing on finance, education, et cetera