Can you use points earned from a business card?

Even if you are an authorized user, using the rewards yourself may be off-limits

By  |  Published: May 1, 2017

Your Business Credit
Your
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

Ask Elaine a question or read her prior answers in the 'Your Business Credit' archive.

Question Dear Your Business Credit,
I was responsible for purchasing items for my employer. There was no agreement between me and corporate [on the] credit card usage policy. I ordered most items from the Amazon website and accumulated “Amazon rewards points.” I started to use these points for personal gain. I was not aware that these points were linked to the company’s credit card. So, the financial department found out that I used points without permission. Do you think I violated the policy and fraudulently use points? – P.

Answer Dear P.,
It sounds as if you are referring to the “Shop with Points” program on Amazon, in which consumers can use points from a credit card loyalty program to buy things on Amazon.

It wasn’t clear to me if you fraudulently used the points, so I ran your question past Leslie Tayne, an attorney based in Melville, New York, with expertise in credit-related matters.

“This is a tricky situation because there may be important details that affect whether or not you fraudulently used points, such as your understanding with your employer on the terms of use,” she said in an email. “However, given the fact it was a company card and used for company business, the reward points would belong to the company. They paid the bill, and the use was business and not personal.”

Although you say there was no agreement between you and the company about use of the cards, Tayne suggested discussing the nature of the agreement for use of the card with your company. “This may be an issue of company policy… and the rules could be in a company handbook,” she wrote.

One factor that is likely relevant to your situation is whether your employer formally gave you access to the card that was attached to the Amazon account or you were using it on an informal basis.

As Tayne pointed out, Amazon’s website specifies that if the primary cardholder wishes to remove the rights of other cardholders to shop with points, it is up to the primary cardholder to contact the rewards program provider to discuss the status and rights of other card members to use rewards program points.

“So if you were in fact an authorized user of the card, and there was no explicit agreement on corporate credit card usage, your company may be accountable for not properly outlining the expectations and limitations of the credit card and any rewards points associated with it,” she wrote.

For at least one card in the “Shop with Points” program, authorized users on a card are allowed to redeem the points on Amazon. The rules for one of the eligible Chase cards say, “Any authorized users on your Chase card may redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points from your account through 'Shop with Points' at Amazon.com once they complete the registration process.”

However, I did not find a rule like this listed in the terms and conditions on the site for all of the other cards that are part of the program, so the situation could vary with the card.

Could a situation like yours be construed as fraud? It is possible that your company could see it that way.

Vox Media recently filed a lawsuit against a former procurement manager alleging “he repeatedly used his control over the corporate credit card and travel accounts to transfer cash to himself or to transfer rewards points from Vox Media’s accounts to his personal accounts.”

The suit accuses him of alleged “fraud, fraudulent concealment, conversion and unjust enrichment.” (The attorneys for Vox and the plaintiff did not respond to my attempts to contact them by email and phone for comments on the case by my deadline.)

There is another issue here that is very important. Whether or not you have technically committed fraud, it does seem that you have violated the trust of the company owners.

If you owned the company and an employee had an opportunity to cash in valuable rewards points in connection with a business account, you would probably want to be asked if it was OK – even if you had not put a policy about this in writing. These points have monetary value and could be used by the owners to purchase things the company needs.

Assuming you still work for the same employer, I would suggest you never use these points again, whether or not you are an authorized user on the company card. Do all you can to show you are honest in your future dealings.

Getting a few freebies on Amazon isn’t worth losing the trust of your colleagues and permanently damaging your reputation.

See related: Am I liable for unpaid bills on a company credit card?, Business credit card can damage your personal score 

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Updated: 10-18-2017

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