Money and Markets

We bought black-market eBucks to cash in on big Dis-Chem and Checkers discounts

Business Insider SA
buying ebucks
  • First National Bank's eBucks rewards scheme offers huge discounts at Checkers and Dis-Chem, with only two limitations. One is how much eBucks you have.
  • FNB doesn't allow you to buy more eBucks with cash – but it does allow easy and free transfers between eBucks accounts.
  • That has created a pretty efficient black market for eBucks, as long as you know where to buy and sell.

Some South African loyalty schemes are great when you are buying petrol, and others offer deep savings when you are buying food.

eBucks from First National Bank (FNB) has different advantages for different users with different spending patterns, but one of its features is nearly universally popular: the ability to buy electronic vouchers to use at Checkers and Dis-Chem stores.

eBucks discount tiers apply to such vouchers, which means those vouchers come at discounts of up to 40% of their face value – so that top-tier eBucks users pay R900 for R1,500 of vouchers they can then spend on anything at those stores.

There are two major limitations on that offer: a maximum between R500 and R2,000* per month any one user may spend on those vouchers, and the number of eBucks earned, which may not be enough to maximise that reward.

There is no longer a mechanism to buy eBucks with rands from FNB, but the bank offers a simple and free system to transfer eBucks between accounts using only account numbers. So you can exchange rands for eBucks – via a fairly efficient black market.

We used the black market to buy eBucks, so we could use those to buy discounted Dis-Chem and Checkers vouchers. Here's how it went.

The go-to market for buying and selling eBucks is the members-only forum.

Carbonite forum

Carbonite is a long-established forum built for the more geeky and technology-minded, so as various online tokens took off, trading among the Carbonite early adopters also became popular.

eBucks trades are on the Virtual Currency Trades board, which you can check out without registering.

You can short-circuit the process by going straight for the vouchers, but that isn't a great idea.

Carbonite vouchers

Among the tokens traded are the very Checkers and Dis-Chem vouchers we're after. They're eminently transferrable; each voucher is valid for three years and they act as bearer bonds, in that all you need to redeem them is the long string of the voucher number.

But such vouchers currently trade for around 90% of their face value, a far cry from the up to 40% discount you can get yourself if you are at the right eBucks level. Also, there is no easy way to check if a voucher code has been redeemed – and you'll find it hard to get your hands on that code before you make payment. Buying vouchers is an easy way to get scammed.

To trade you have to register an account – and be okayed by a human.

Carbonite confirm

An administrator checks every application. This means it can take a couple of days, and that you are better off using an organisational email account. Other users won't see your email address, but an admin who knows you work for will be faster to trust than one confronted with an address featuring

You start off with no track record, which can make trading hard, but there is a reputation shortcut.

Carbonite donor

There is risk in trading with a newcomer, but Carbonite runs a donations drive to cover the costs of the site. For the price of $1, your account gets a flag that shows you as a donor. Casual scammers don't typically do that, not least of all because it makes for money trail that could be followed, and it shows some respect for the forum.

It may not help, but if you are in a hurry or want to trade with someone long established rather than taking a chance on another newcomer, it can't hurt.

Once you have credentials, you can post your ad.

Carbonite post

If you are really lucky, somebody may be offering the amount of eBucks you are looking for, but it is faster to put out a buy flag than hang around waiting for a sale offer.

Carbonite has strict requirements on how transaction posts must be formatted – but offers a helpful template when you create a thread, so it is hard to get it wrong.

Carbonite thread helper

The tricky bit is picking the price.

eBucks have a face value of 10 cents; 10 eBucks make up a rand. The market fluctuates, but you'll have trouble finding anyone who would go to the trouble of selling at less than 10.5 cents per eBuck. Transactions at more than 12.5 cents seem to be rare – and start eating into the value of any vouchers you end up buying.

Our offer amounted to a 15% premium on R1,000 worth of eBucks or, put differently, to pay R1,125 for tokens worth R1,000 on the eBucks website. (Plus R28.74 – the price of $2 donation to smooth the way.)

It took three days for a seller to step forward, but then things moved nice and quick.

eBucks received

Our seller was a three-year Carbonite veteran with a 100% positive rating across many transactions, which made things easy to wrap up. They got in touch via direct message on the website, we exchange phone numbers and took the logistics conversation to WhatsApp.

The beauty of trading eBucks is that both sides in the trade have FNB bank accounts. An eBucks transfer reflects nearly instantaneously, and so does an EFT to pay for those eBucks. Add in another R1.25 for getting FNB to send a direct confirmation of the EFT to the seller, and it is easy to verify everything in moments.

eBucks transfers are limited to 5,000 eBucks (worth R500) at a time, but you can do consecutive tranches, so our seller just need to do two transfers to the transaction limit.

The seller needs only a valid eBucks account number to transfer eBucks, which is a pretty safe piece of information to share. But keep in mind that links to your banking profile, so you aren't exactly anonymous after that.

Our net profit: 24%.

eBucks reward level

At our reward level, vouchers for Checkers and Dis-Chem come at a 30% discount, which translates our R1,000 worth of eBucks into a theoretical R1,428 worth of vouchers (they're not available in small enough denominations to actually reach that exact number.)

After all transaction costs, those eBucks cost us R1,154.99 – for a profit of just about 24% on the whole deal.

That number increases significantly if you achieve a higher eBucks discount, or take advantage of a well-priced special on the eBucks store.

But – and don't say we didn't warn you – it could also drop to a 100% loss if you get scammed buying eBucks.

* This article was updated to reflect the different limits on vouchers available to different types of FNB clients. There is not, in fact, a R1,500 limit per month, but a range of limits from R500 to R2,000.

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