NBC 5 Responds

NBC5 Responds: A Man's Year-Long Tussle to Protect a Crucial Asset

NBC Universal, Inc.

A Blue Island retiree says he had the security of his Social Security Number top-of-mind when he refused to hand it over to a company that he says never told him it was required, until well after it had accepted his money. 

When Leroy Sykes walked into a Calumet Park drug store in March of 2020, his plan was to buy a product he thought would simplify his life: a Green Dot debit card, the kind that can be activated for a fee, no bank required. Sykes says he planned to take it on an upcoming trip, to help pay for lodging.  

“I thought it would be safer than messing with a credit card,” he told NBC5 Responds. “I put $300 on it. The cashier said I could use it right away.” 

But his first attempt to access the money he’d loaded was a failure, Sykes says. Inexplicably, the card was not functioning.  

Only then, Sykes says, did he learn he was required to upload his Social Security Number in order to access the money on his card. He says he does not recall seeing that disclosed on any of the Green Dot packaging.

And if he did? Sykes says it would have been a deal-breaker.

“No way. I’m not comfortable with that,” he told NBC5 Responds. 

Sykes is wary of giving out his SSN, and with good reason. Reports of ID theft continue to grow at an alarming pace, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which says the number of reports in 2020 doubled those of 2019.  

Sykes says his multiple attempts to talk to Green Dot customer service about the conflict got him nowhere. He says it was impossible to reach a live person at Green Dot, and he is not alone in that dissatisfaction.  

Complaints loaded online at review site TrustPilot leave Green Dot with a one-star rating. The Better Business Bureau says it is currently evaluating a potential pattern in the more than 4,500 complaints submitted about Green Dot in the past three years. BBB users gave Green Dot an average of one star, out of a possible five.  

We asked the California-based company if Leroy Sykes was informed of the SSN requirement at the point-of-purchase, when he first loaded his $300 on the card last March. 

A spokesperson said the packaging in question “did disclose requirements in several places, including “Online registration required” (on front of packaging),  “Ready to use after registration” (on the back), “Registration, online access, mobile number, and identity verification are required to open an account and access all features” (on the back), and “Not a Gift Card” (on the back).” 

“This is a regulated financial product and we are required by law to know our customer both for PATRIOT Act compliance and OFAC screening," the spokesperson said. "More recently, SSN has been added to packaging to more explicitly communicate requirements for identity verification, but these products are not marketed in store as cards for temporary use without registration and identity verification.” 

Green Dot then said it would refund Leroy Sykes’ money, and acknowledged that his overall customer experience was not ideal, or what the company strives for.  

Leroy Sykes says he was thrilled to hear he would get back the $300, which he thought he’d likely never see again. 

He also says he will remain vigilant about protecting his SSN.  

“I don’t hand it out, period. I don’t even like to give it to the government! But I will, since they are the ones who gave it to me,” he said, with a laugh. 

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