You put WHAT on your credit card? 8 strange but true charges

Oddball charges include a Smurf-cleaning, 1,728 clown noses, $10,000 worth of XXX

Erica Sandberg
Personal Finance Writer
Consumer finance expert, author and “Opening Credits” columnist.

You put WHAT on your credit card? 8 strange but true charges

 

The benefit of having a credit card is the purchasing freedom it provides. While typically used to finance life’s little emergencies, some transactions are far outside the mainstream.

While standard retail purchases, home and car repairs and other ordinary costs are routinely slapped on credit cards, they’re pretty humdrum compared to these eight odd, funny and most embarrassing goods and services people have put on their cards.

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1. 1,728 clown noses

San Francisco “Jollytologist” Allen Klein is the author of “The Healing Power of Humor and Secrets Kids Know.” He’s also a speaker for corporate and nonprofit organization events, helping employees relieve stress and job burnout by implementing humor into their routine. “I give out red sponge-rubber clown noses to everyone in my audience when I’m doing a keynote speech or workshop,” says Klein. “I have them close their eyes, put the noses on, imagine something stressful, then open their eyes and look around. Everyone starts laughing. It’s very effective!” Because his gigs are large scale, Klein orders the items by the case, which amounts to nearly 2,000 noses at a time.

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2. $10,000 worth of XXX

When Sean McCabe from Los Angeles was a college student, he worked as a part-time assistant at a business that distributed unique adult-only products. One task involved him fulfilling a substantial order for a Las Vegas trade show, using the company credit card. “These were things that people would consider pretty fetishy,” says McCabe. “Nothing was over $200, and some were really cheap. It took me two days of going though websites and catalogs from Asia and Europe to have enough for the show. When I was done, the final bill was over $10,000. It was definitely weird to charge all that. I never did tell my parents what I did for money in my senior year!”

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3. Bailing a credit card thief out of jail

Dee Brown, a Memphis health care aide, comes from a close-knit family, so when her half-sister was arrested for stealing credit cards and making over $20,000 in fraudulent charges, Brown didn’t hesitate to help. She rallied loved ones to post bail to spring her sister from jail. Unfortunately, they were only able to come up with a fraction of the required $2,000. “I put $1,500 on my card to get her out,” says Brown. “I didn’t expect my sister to pay me back because she didn’t have a job or anything, but everybody else said they would give me something. After a couple of months, I only got $500 back.” Worse, it didn’t take long before the woman committed yet another crime. “Three months later, she was caught with a lady’s purse and was using a lot more cards, so she was arrested again,” says Brown. “It was crazy. I used my credit card, got into debt, and ruined my credit because of her stealing credit cards!” To date, the sister remains behind bars.

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4. Freshening up a Smurf

The last thing a performer wants to do is repel their audience. This is especially true when entertaining young kids, as they tend to not hold back with harsh criticism. Jayne Wallace, at the time a Los Angeles communications representative working for Smurf toys, was touring with an actor who had to wear a giant blue Smurf costume on stage, day after day. When she got wind that it was generating a strong malodor, thus prompting some seriously bad reviews from the kids who normally crowd in to hug the fluffy character, she broke out her credit card. “I charged the dry-cleaning after a kid complained, ‘Smurf smells!,’” says Wallace. The stink was solved with a swipe of her card and the show went on.

"It was crazy. I used my credit card, got into debt, and ruined my credit because of her stealing credit cards!"

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5. A massive stack of a particular issue of Playboy – from a single store

Until recently, most convenience stores would stock a hearty array of “men’s” magazines. Regulated to a separate shelf, people would furtively grab a copy, hoping no one would notice, and buy it without making a scene. Yet Maggie Rivera, a Miami-based public relations executive, once had a client who needed about 30 copies of a particular issue – right away. There was no opportunity to order them privately from the publisher. Instead, she had to procure them “the immediate and good old-fashioned way by walking into a 7-Eleven and requesting them from the salesclerk.” Although Rivera wishes she could have handled the situation like a seasoned professional, she says her face burned with embarrassment, and she dissolved into a fit of giggles.

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6. Bizarre beauty device

“I was rapidly approaching my 50th birthday and was freaking out about getting older,” says Jackie Russo, a New York City stay-at-home mom. “My marriage was crumbling, and I was just very depressed. One night I was home watching TV and I had a glass of wine or two, and saw a commercial for the Rejuvenique Electric Facial System. I can’t remember how much it was, maybe $50 or $100. I called the 800-number and paid for it with my credit card. I actually forgot all about it until this big box was delivered, and when I opened it I laughed so hard. It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen! I put it on and I looked like Jason from ‘Friday the 13th.’” But did it work? “No, not at all!” says Russo. “And I tried to return it for a refund, but it was too late. I think I still have it somewhere.”


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7. Baby birds and bunches of bees

“We recently moved to an 8.5-acre property, and I just had 18 chicks delivered by mail,” says Meredith Sprayberry, an Atlanta transplant to rural Alabama and owner of Gypsy Shoals Farm. “I've also already preordered my honey bee swarm for my bee hives that I'm starting next spring. On April 2, 2018, 3 pounds of live bees will be delivered to my doorstep. Both purchases were made over the internet on my credit card.” 

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8. A “you, too, can be a millionaire” scheme

If you watched late-night programming in the 1990s, you probably remember Tom Vu, the flashy character who rose to fame promoting his “get rich in real estate” seminars. In his infomercials, which were peppered with leggy blondes in speedboats, Vu promised wild income opportunities. Hang Tran, today a retired San Jose, California, electrician, was sold. “Tom Vu was a big name in the Vietnamese community,” says Tran. “Everybody knew he was very smart and a big success.” Wanting in on the action but with no savings to pay for the workshops and materials, Tran racked up over $8,000 in credit card charges to cover the costs. Unsurprisingly, the wealth never materialized. Not long after, Vu was sued by his former students and investigated for fraud and false advertising. Tran, however, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Now when you buy something as routine as a plane ticket or a sweater with your card, consider all the wacky charges other people have made – and what your own outside-the-box purchases may be. Plastic offers the autonomy to procure everything from the silly to the scary. To ensure good financial health you’ve got to rein in spending to what your budget can handle, of course, but every once in a while, when you absolutely must have a few thousand clown noses, you’ll be immensely grateful for that open credit line.

See related: Saved by plastic, 5 true credit card rescue tales, 6 expenses you should never put on a credit card


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Updated: 12-16-2017