"Like regular money but more fun!"

Outside Lands has this great new scam going on where you can go "cashless". What this means is you charge your credit card to load, say, $50 onto an account associated with the RFID tag in your wristband. All of the food and drink vendors will let you wave your wristband at the reader to pay that way. And why not set it up to "auto top-up" so you don't find you've run out after you've tried to order? When you're down to $20, it will bill you another $20 and put it on your account.

And at the end of the festival, of course you can get a refund for any remaining cash -- if you ask. For only a $5 service fee.

Holy crap you guys, they are just PRINTING MONEY here! And everybody is falling for it! The vendors are confused when someone pays cash. Cash is rare and weird.

So that first charge, to move money from your CC to this other account, Visa/MC/etc. charge the vendor, Outside Lands for that transaction. Let's say it's $0.30. Of course they're going to pass that along to the customer, and take a taste on top. I'd be shocked if the total fee is less than $2. Probably it's up in the ATM-or-TicketBastard range, $3.50 to $5. And each "auto top-up" will incur another transaction charge. So now they've already charged you like four times, because you underestimated how much you drink and how expensive the drinks are.

And the system guarantees that almost everybody has $21 or more left in the account at the end, of which they can only get back $16. Most people, if they only had $7 in the account, aren't going to bother paying $5 to get $2 back, so there's a "groundscore" effect here too. They get to just keep all that leftover cash.

Currently there are only a few alcoves here that are proudly "cash free", so you can get by without buying Itchy & Scratchy Money. But I'm gonna go out on a limb here and bet this is going to expand a lot next year. Probably the VIP areas will be cashless first, and then the entire event.

And the "convenience" you get in exchange for all these added expenses is... you don't have to use an ATM? Wat?

I always appreciate a scam that is well executed. And this is genius.

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40 Responses:

  1. Jim Sweeney says:

    That is some Lex Luther kinda shit right there.

    • Elusis says:

      I feel like there's a reasonably good chance that the lege will have something to say about this little scheme (though not before they've run it a few times) - given that CA busted the "VISA Gift Cards" and "prepaid debit cards" for charging you fees for checking your balance and topping them up, the whole "pay us $5 to give you back your money" thing seems like low-hanging fruit.

      I mean, I wish I'd thought of it, except that I do like being able to occasionally sleep at night.

      • Crissa says:

        I don't believe it is legal now. Gift cards fees - which this is - are highly regulated. California takes a very dim view of companies who pretend the gift card law doesn't apply to them.

        The $5 might be the maximum fee, tho.

  2. Jim Sweeney says:

    That is some Lex Luther kinda shit right there.

  3. Geoff Smith says:

    Which lot did you park in, by the way?

  4. Adam says:

    How could something similar be done in, say, a nightclub setting, I wonder...

  5. legolas says:

    Yes, I've seen the same thing in several places, with not cash option. It's a win win win, with all the winning on 1 side.

  6. Otto says:

    Beer tickets gone digital. Upped their game there. Well fine.

  7. MattyJ says:

    "Bison Bucks", catchy name. How could that be evil?

    It's particularly ingenious charging on the back end instead of the front. I'm guessing if you have less than $5 in there at the end, there's probably no way to split a $12 beer between Bison Bucks and regular cash.

  8. Juha Autero says:

    I would recommend rfid reader in a bag and Chinese rfid tags.

  9. jwz says:

    And if you have the schedule app installed, having notifications checked for only: "emergencies" and "schedule changes" means getting spammed with a push notification Lyft ad once an hour, all day long. Bravo.

    • Owen says:

      They clearly put these flags in to slip past the app approval process...from the iOS terms and conditions: "You may not use the APN or Local Notifications for the purposes of advertising, product promotion, or direct marketing of any kind."

      Of course, good luck getting that one enforced.

      • jwz says:

        Well, if any of you know how to transform this screenshot into a nastygram from Apple to Outside Lands, please have at it. (My outrage fatigue leaves me unable to care that much.)

        Has Lyft leveled up to the same level of moustache-twirling evil as Uber yet? Since they've been the underdog running the same con, they haven't gotten as much bad press, but just about the only spam messages we get on our Facebook events is about Lyft. I assume they run some kind of Spammer Affiliate Program. Which is amazingly appropriate, right? I'm sure all they are doing is connecting spammers with spamees, not actually spamming themselves, oh heavens no.

  10. These fuckers are why we got the fuck out of town this weekend.

  11. Cash less says:

    And how much are ATMs at DNA again?

    • jwz says:

      More expensive than the one you should have used before you got here. What's your point?

    • Ewen McNeill says:

      More expensive than some, but definitely cheaper than many "you're not going to leave and find another ATM" venues (IIRC DNA was less than half the price of, eg, some Las Vegas Casino ATMs for instance; and less than twice the typical ATM fee I've seen travelling through the USA).

      Besides the cash you spend at DNA could come from anywhere; the Magic Money of these schemes only comes from one place...


  12. nooj says:

    Also it adds another layer of "people who get paid for moving your money".

    I guess the company that provides registration gets to split that money--from your calculation above, $20 per chump?--when previously they only got a few bucks per ticket sold.

    The RFID system was already built into the wristbands for registration; but maybe that company new gets to keep an extra dollar or two per beer sale!

  13. Ben says:

    If it isn't yet, they'll eventually do it so that a "buck" is $2, so drink prices look reasonable. And people won't notice until the non-itemized credit card charges.

  14. Ingmar says:

    You mean like Amazon Coins/Microsoft Points/Facebook credits/Gift cards/Coupons?

    That scam has been around for a while.

    • Jake Nelson says:

      The formal economics term for specifically non-refundable corporate scrip schemes is "tokenization", originally in reference to an early Atlantic City boardwalk token system, known to most people through its direct descendants in video game arcades.

      (Scrip in general has some fascinating/horrible history.)

  15. Josh says:

    Ugh. Why not use or set up something like ApplePay? Aside from all the money to be made by all the middlemen.

  16. dzm says:

    The cafeteria operator at my company has been trying to push this scheme on us. Something about "pair your RFID badge to your credit card and check out at the register by just scanning your badge!"

    Thus far they have been unwilling to offer any compelling reason why this is preferable to just presenting the credit card itself or the age-old fallback, cash. Their best attempts at selling it have been "but what if you forgot your wallet?" and "but it's FASTER!" And no, they offer no incentive to the end user to actually give a crap about it. No "save 5% off of every purchase," no "get a free snack-bag of kale-chips," etc. But man, they sure do want us all to switch to this.

  17. When Clipper started I took a hard look to see if it was a scam like this. It does have some scammy features but overall it's acceptable, especially if you use it for BART and get the 6% discount.

    • Joe Luser says:

      and clipper pays for itself the first time you use it on a ferry.

      • Plus on the ferry there's a staffer to make sure you tag off. On bus systems that require tag-off, e.g. Golden Gate Transit, it's easy to forget, which results in the maximum fare. Scam or just incompetent design?

        • Richard says:

          Clipper is operated by Cubic Systems, Inc, a giant defense contractor whose primarily (sole, in fact) business model is eliminating competition for government contracts and subsequently ensuring that the change orders and "upgrades" (what? you didn't require anything to be functional? That sort of thing is extra! So, so, so much extra! Even if you knew how to ask for it, which we make sure you don't!) keep on rolling in.

          Clipper 2.0 is out for "bid" just about now. Guess who is going to "win"?

          So, yes, "incompetent design" (= highly profitable scam), by competent design.

    • thielges says:

      Oyster (London's Clipper) claims that their cards hold value forever. Which is they way it ought to be. Not dollars that poof out of existence if you snooze.

  18. Owen says:

    They're ahead of you...."Wine Lands and Cocktail Magic are cashless zones and will accept wristband payments exclusively."

  19. I was in japan early last week, they have "cashless" with Suica/Paismo, which is the same scheme with no real transaction costs (that I can see) and is accepted most places and enables fancy vending machines. I do enjoy the "just wave your card" thing. Why can't I get non-scammy fast transactions?

    • J Greely says:

      When my sister was going to Japan for the first time, I gave her my 6-year-old Suica card, and the balance was intact. As I expected, because Japan.

      There are some regional issues, which is why I also have an ICOCA card, but yeah, they're ridiculously useful.


  20. Alasdair says:

    In most of the UK and increasingly large parts of Europe, Visa and Mastercard have introduced "Contactless", where pretty much all new credit/debit cards have an RFID chip in them. It allows for transactions up to £30 - no signing, no PIN entry, just tap your card against the reader. It's so prevalent that I never carry cash. I think contactless is slowly spreading across the US too.

    At Sziget festival in Budapest a few years ago, they had a no-cash-allowed contactless payment system, using... the Visa/Mastercard contactless system. If your card supported it, you just tapped. If you didn't have it, you bought a top up card, and could get a full refund at the end (if you could be bothered). This is how it should be done.

    Despite the penetration of contactless in the UK, Eastern Electrics (and no doubt many other festivals), still continue to have these insane custom top up RFID cards/wristbands, which you have to top up in advance, and where you inevitably get so smashed or fucked that by the end of the festival a refund of unused credit is the last thing on your mind as you attempt to get a taxi home with your mates.

    That said, RFID doesn't have to be involved, a lot of venues at Off Sonar had a drinks token system, with the same result - unused tokens at the end. Ultimately these places have a captive audience and will use any method they can to extort money from you.

  21. I am disappointed to report that this scheme has spread to Austin City Limits as "ACL Cashless: No Cash, No ATM Fees, No Worries."