Reports of American Express Shutting Down Some Users Accounts (Update: Transfer Out)

Update: For those who were shut down there are a number of datapoints (1, 2, 3, 4) of people being able to call in and still transfer out their points. Worth a try if you’re in this situation. One person also appealed the decision and were given an official response that the accounts were shut down due to self referrals.

Original post: Today in the /r/churning daily discussion thread a number of users have reported that American Express has shut down all of their accounts, there is now a dedicated shut down thread as well. At this stage it is not clear how American Express has targeted people for this wave of shut downs, so we are trying to get some additional information. If you have been shut down it would be helpful to provide answers to the following questions:

  1.  Did you do manufactured spending in bonus categories?​
  2. Did you do multiple pay-over-times?
  3. ​Did you do self-referrals?​
  4.  Have you ever had a financial review?​
  5. Did you know certain methods that can reset spend limits?​
  6.  Do you have multiple of the same cards?​
  7. Did you apply for the no AF Hilton Aspire that was linked today?

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Stan
Stan

All accounts got cancelled on Nov.13. Called in today. Only explanation is fraudulent application. Any one encountered this explanation? What even does this mean? The only thing I can relate to, is that due to the 5 additional ED card I applied to the targeted spending promotion for authorized users? If so, then it seems a definite bait.

AKJohnny
AKJohnny

only thing Amex has on me is getting shut down on bluebird for loading vgcs…. I’m glad I never got into the MR points.. I’m exclusive to Chase UR points…

VL
VL

How never getting into MR points is a good thing? Even if you do not MS, and do not do self referrals… you are missing on hundreds of thousands points.

RAT insider
RAT insider

Second wave is coming next Monday around noon Pacific time. These are accounts that were flagged by algo and manually reviewed and approved for closure earlier this week. There will be more waves as analysts keep going through the lists of account flagged for self-referral and other factors.

MoreSun
MoreSun

On Veterans Day? Last I checked that’s a Federal Holiday…

captcolin
captcolin

What “other factors”?

t
t

225+ comments later… it’s getting a little hard to follow. Can DoC set up some sort of Google sheet with a chart? Might be easier to see trend with polls instead of text comments.

Alex
Alex

My accounts all got shut down last month. I noticed the MR points were still in my account but I got an error when trying to transfer. I called in and they told me they would still be able to transfer. I took him up on his offer. Not to mention there was a BA avios transfer bonus on the account. The next day I looked at my MR and it was completely closed. If you get shut down, call ASAP and get those points transferred you basically have one full day to do it before the points are gone!

USB
USB

Maybe this is why they don’t notify you right away and you’d have to manually check to find out

Alex
Alex

I got the emails actually on each account that was shut down. Which prompted me to go to my account online, which then led to my horrid face staring at the screen for 5 minutes contemplating my life and future, then back to reality 1st world problems.

USB
USB

So you did get instant email notifications … hmm I wonder if everyone receives them though.

When you say 1 full day – is it 24 hours from the time you get the emails?
Also, some transfers are not instant. How would that work? As long as you initiate the transfer, it should be okay?

Soph
Soph

Thank you for sharing and sorry for the loss

Jacob S. Parker
Jacob S. Parker

How did you discover you were shut down?

Sophie
Sophie

I have two Hilton no AF cards and one was opened six month ago one last month. Got sign up bonus for both. Is it safe to close out the first one?

Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown

no, read the card terms

RAT Poison
RAT Poison

I won’t say why or how, but I have insider info from RAT on what’s behind all this. This shutdown is part of a series of upcoming shutdowns. This week’s was a beta test for a new machine learning model specifically designed to target churning activity through unsupervised learning. Amex data scientists are improving an evolving neural network model that identifies churning behavior as it happens, and then assigns risk scores that factor in to anti bust-out or fraud scores. They’re treated the same, those all have different scores but their values affect your overall risk/reward score for Amex. If that overall score reaches a certain threshold (which they’re still experimenting with what exactly it will be), you will get shut down. What they’re doing is based on the same ML models that are used at Amex for AML and fraud prevention. The shutdowns will happen in small waves because one giant hit would be a massive drain on resources and disruption to their overall business, including drawing negative public attention outside of the churning community. That would scare people who are profitable but think they’re winning. They are also incrementing shutdown waves because of the resource usage it takes to identify accounts and assign a score based on the new indicated risk factors. When shutdowns are triggered, they begin combing through the new dataset. Right now, the model only looks back two years.

The clawbacks on self-referrals were a pilot program to this week’s events, not an entirety separate event. The same model that identified self-referrers was used for these shutdowns.

I’ll report back when I hear more info.

RAT Poison
RAT Poison

Also, I should add that if you had self-referrals clawed back, you’re already in the main data set. Those who were hit by the clawback were flagged as the highest priority for the model to comb through because of the strong correlation to proven churning/gaming behavior. Self-referrals were like a litmus test for who will be the low-hanging fruit for them to cut. As they tune the model to identify more positive activity correlations with churning, it will get more specific. Combing through level 3 data will become more prevalent in identifying churners, especially true if you have transactions from GCM and other obvious sites in your transaction history. If you were hit in the clawback but weren’t shut down this time, be cautious that you’re in their crosshairs. From what I’ve learned about the model, the inferred course of action here to avoid a shutdown is to not do anything with Amex except organic spend on your existing cards. Don’t carry a balance, no more MS, and no new cards. Keep in mind that the anti-churning model is fundamentally based on the neural architecture of their anti-fraud model.

PS I’ve read many comments loosly speculating about what RAT is. RAT isn’t a bunch of guys in India who are manually combing through the accounts with high MR balances, or checking referral sources for validity, etc.. This isn’t true. “RAT” is two data science and machine learning engineers in Phoenix who transitioned from the Amex fraud prevention team. There are two other engineers who have shared responsibilities with RAT and other anti-fraud teams.

John
John

Pure troll

Ray
Ray

Nah

P
P

My grocery store started limiting VGC purchases to $500 per person per day so my Amex MS will pretty much be reduced by more than 90% per year. I only need my two BCP cards and canceled my 2 Gold cards.

captcolin
captcolin

So given this news, is it best to tone back VGC from the 4x grocery categories? Not sure if Kroger and others report Level 3 data.

Antidote
Antidote

As DS at another financial institution including building risk / aml models etc (not knowing any thing about amex) it almost feels like pure BS.

COBOLCODERUSEALLCAPS

Not a DS but a data engineer – which part of his post shows he’s BSing?

RAT Poison
RAT Poison

The Hilton Aspire no AF link had absolutely nothing to do with these shutdowns. It’s a pure coincidence. The portfolio of recommended accounts to be shut down was sent off for approval more than a week ago. RAT doesn’t shut down accounts. They provide tranches of customer accounts suspected of abuse – along with correlating data. Those tranches go to evaluation from non-engineering management; who are the decision makers on shutting down a tranch of accounts or enacting other penalties. This is new to them and it’s somewhat uncharted territory, the speculations on here and on Reddit that they’re winging it are accurate. Their plan is to cut losses and effectively disable Amex churning first, then deal with the fallout afterwards. They’re legally within their rights so shutdown approvals are not made on a legal basis.

R.I.P Amex Train
R.I.P Amex Train

Does this include staying away from bank funding too? I can’t possibly fathom how they offer 25k of grocery category spend on a personal card and NOT expect MS.

Staradmiral
Staradmiral

So no one at amex ever heard of prevention? Why allow self referral in the first place? people noticed it and thus Amex must have within weeks of the new referral system being released yet they did nothing for 8 months. Why allow 25k spend at groceries stores in the first place?

Any why not just issue a warning or a letter? A gamer could be turned into a profitable customer who continues to generate merchant fees for Amex.

I just transferred all my points out to my most common used airline programs.

barrytuneup
barrytuneup

a better one.. why allow 56k spending at grocery stores on OBC? If they want to cut out churners then just lower the grocery limits to 5k on the obc cards. Problem solved…

Vic
Vic

Maybe because $56k at grocery is acceptable in Amex’s eyes.

OBC had no cap before, and it was nerfed after three waves of shutdown. $50k is probably a good number for some loss on MSer and many gain from those who ended up paying interests. Not everyone who uses OBC is an MSer.

DP
DP

Staradmiral, Amex would benefit from a dose of your common sense. This is entirely on THEM. It’s their system. They can block/deny whatever activities they desire with a couple of lines of code. Or simply add 1 line to the referral terms that, “Self referrals are not allowed.” Solved in 1 second. Yet they outright *refuse* to do it. For the life of me, I can’t see why. Unless it is their goal to attract “churn” type customers…get them to generate a lot of spend and merchant fees in the first 3mon…and then claw the bonus/etc back. But that’s not a sustainable business model. Their system can detect/flag activity in a nanosecond — yet it takes them 8mon to take action?? That’s just bad business. When all is said and done, I think they are going to regret heading down this path. Like you said, there are much more ideal solutions.

AKJohnny
AKJohnny

what about chase Ink Cash with $25k in office supply 5x back… I’m working as fast as odom has the fee free $200 vgc…

DS
DS

“ They provide tranches of customer accounts suspected of abuse – along with correlating data. Those tranches go to evaluation from non-engineering management; who are the decision makers”

This is pretty much how most of the so called “neural models” work. Unless it turned into a 5/24 type of a rule. There is no way anyone gets shutdown by a (black box) model and to come up with a rule that every one will sign off is not easy. So this not easily scalable (at least yet). Some one has to review this stuff who can take an action to shut a customer down. Remember this is not flagging and your transaction is delayed (which it self could effect you SLAs). i think your DS “friend” is slightly inflating his role. Remind him it is not an interview. 🙂

slowbrake
slowbrake

I appreciate both sides contributing. I’m not of a AI/DS background.

But I read Judea Pearl’s ‘The Book of Why’ so if AMEX is using neural models with human oversight I’m much less worried.

Dan - Legal Bank Robber
Dan - Legal Bank Robber

Are these shutdowns or SSN bans?

Poison Q
Poison Q

What about those people who self-referred and WEREN’T clawed back? Does that mean they escaped the dataset?

shipitkthx83
shipitkthx83

“The clawbacks on self-referrals were a pilot program to this week’s events, not an entirety separate event. The same model that identified self-referrers was used for these shutdowns.”

If they need a neural network to identify self-referrers they are morons. The accounts that get the referral bonus have a SSN attached, the new cards have a SSN attached….if A.SSN=B.SSN, it’s a self-referral. I call total BS on this.

Bill
Bill

It sounds more like they dumped everyone who did that into a data set and did learning off that to see if there were other interesting features precisely because it’s easy.

Chong786
Chong786

Dont carry the balance to avoid shutdown? Lmao that is how amex makes money though .

DP
DP

Appreciate the insider info. But I did some research of my own. American Express annual operating income for 2018 was $8.122B. Even if 10,000 “evil” customers each “stole” 50,000pts valued at 1 cent per pt (so 5mil total), that’s only 0.06% of their profits. Conversely, for 2019, the *retired* CEO was paid over 23.7mil. Another 17.3mil for the active CEO. Over 41mil between those 2 alone. If guys like that are motivated to shake customers down 8mon after the fact over a gray area to claw back 0.06%, that’s pretty sad. As if that’s not bad enough, for those who MAKE the cut, they have wave after endless wave of shutdowns from an A.I. computer system that never sleeps to look forward to. All of which causes economic uncertainty and/or burned bridges — which costs Amex FAR more than 0.06%.

Tolikfox
Tolikfox

There has to be more to it, these folks that were shut down had to be doing more shady crap than self referrals

debit
debit

Self referrals on the same card multiple times. People have multiple platinum business amex and personal amex. All at the same time. Two cheers to capitalism where everyone only thinks about themselves to the max and screws up everything for everyone else.

Fathiss
Fathiss

Is that your definition of capitalism? Wow! How narrow and vindictive. From which of the 5 remaining communist countries are you from?

tolikfox
tolikfox

i only did 2 self referrals. 1 bonus clawed back few months back, and my ability to refer was disabled week ago. That was it. And I am magically getting credits from Amex, proabably for Amex Offers I never received credits for from way back. I really think Amex is trying to shut down true gamers and do right by all others who are playing by the rules.

Ramen n Green tea
Ramen n Green tea

I’ve only opened HH Aspire with 1 year wavied. Everything seems fine here.