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More than two and a half years after Target launched its “REDperks” loyalty program, are you still wondering when the rebranded Cartwheel Perks program might finally be available in your area?

We now have our answer – never.

Target is officially ending what it’s calling its “Perks pilot”. “Thanks for giving Perks a whirl!” reads a notification that Perks users are now seeing in their Cartwheel app, and in their email. “The time has come – our perks pilot is winding down. August 27th will be the last day to collect points toward perks. Exciting changes are in the works for Cartwheel, and we can’t wait to share them with you!”

Early users who abused the system were long seen as contributing to the program’s eventual demise. But Target denies that’s the case. “This decision was not based on that behavior,” Target spokesman Eddie Baeb told Coupons in the News.

“Creating simple, convenient and fun digital tools for Target guests means listening carefully to guest feedback and regularly making adjustments based on what we hear,” Baeb elaborated in a prepared statement. “That’s why we’ve begun phasing out the pilot Cartwheel Perks program we’ve been testing in five markets. Existing Perks users in those markets have through August 27 to earn Perks points, and must make their final Perks selections by September 27. Guests will then have until October 27 to redeem any Perks. We thank our guests who participated in this pilot program. We had many learnings about how to engage and reward guests that we plan to leverage in the future. We look forward to sharing more about exciting changes coming soon to the Cartwheel and Target apps.”

Perks launched as “REDperks” in early 2015, initially available only in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. Users were able to earn points for every purchase – 10 points per dollar spent, which could be accumulated and later redeemed for “perks”. Earning 5,000 points (by spending $500), for example, would give you a choice of perks like a free toy, free book or a free bottle of laundry detergent. Higher point totals could be redeemed for even more valuable perks.

In the fall of 2016, REDperks was rebranded as “Cartwheel Perks” and introduced to the Denver, Houston, San Diego and St. Louis areas.

But that’s as far as it got. Whether or not it was directly related to the program’s eventual demise, Perks suffered some serious problems. The same type of shoppers who exploit “glitches” in coupons to redeem them improperly, or who pounce on pricing errors to buy products for next to nothing before a retailer realizes what happened, started figuring out how to “beat” the Perks program.

The first vulnerability in the program was a relatively mild one – some users figured out how to spoof their cell phone locations, so the Cartwheel app would think they were in one of the test areas. That way, they were able to sign up for Perks no matter where they lived. Those who didn’t have the knowledge or time to follow all of the steps could “buy” access to the program by paying someone who advertised their services on social media, to do it for them.

The next exploit was much more nefarious. A generous move by Target turned out to be unfortunate in hindsight. Target granted new Perks members 250 points as a “thank you” for signing up. And those 250 points could be redeemed for a special “introductory Perk” like a free Target Cafe item, a free drink at Starbucks or a free “checklane treat”.

Some users discovered they could sign up for multiple accounts, to cash in and amass as many free “introductory Perks” as they would like. They also found they could take screen shots showing their 250-point balance, which even non-Perks account holders could use to get freebies. Those, too, were sold on social media for anywhere from 40 cents to a dollar apiece.

Finally, they found that the free “checklane treat” perk, which was meant to be used for something like a candy bar or a single-serve drink, worked on much larger and more expensive items like 24-packs of water, multipacks of Red Bull, Gatorade, Snapple, Coke and Starbucks, and family-sized containers of snacks. Determined abusers managed to roll out of Target with cartfuls of enough free drinks and snacks to feed the neighborhood.

Target eventually put a stop to that. “Our teams monitor for such activity, and we have taken steps to address issues like the ones you’ve described… which we don’t believe were widespread,” Baeb told Coupons in the News at the time. Target also closed the program to new users, so people outside the test regions would no longer be able to sign up, and instructed cashiers not to accept screenshots.

But the damage apparently was already done. Perks users began complaining that the available perks were no longer as generous as they once were. Cashiers complained online that they were growing weary of battling with scammers who continued trying to use doctored Cartwheel Perks screenshots. As Target tried to come up with ways to secure the program so it would be ready for a nationwide rollout, many speculated it was only a matter of time before Target would simply pull the plug on the program altogether.

And now it has.

The change comes as Target is preparing to combine its Cartwheel app into the main Target app, hence the notice about “exciting changes” in the works for Cartwheel that Target “can’t wait to share” with you. But a loyalty program that was once promoted with great fanfare, will instead quietly fade away and will not be a part of the newly combined app after the last Perks are redeemed in October.

And then Perks are gone for good.

While, again, Target denies the fraud led to the decision to end the program, users who were looking forward to being a part of it may nonetheless see this as another example of why we can’t have nice things. Manufacturers and stores are tightening up their coupon policies more than ever in an effort to fight fraud, making some coupons so restrictive they’re barely worth using.

So to the scammers – hope you enjoyed your perks. Because now millions of other Target shoppers will never have the opportunity.

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