Visa Responds

Yesterday I received my letter from Visa regarding a merchant — specifically, the Sunoco A-Plus at 1101 Cameron Street in Harrisburg — who was enforcing a minimum purchase amount for debit / credit card usage.  In a world where businesses increasingly view consumers as commodities and not actual human beings, it’s nice to have a corporation with the size and power of Visa fight back on my behalf.

Even if they do have their own ulterior motives.

Mr. floor9,

Thank you for letting us know about your receent experience.  Please be assured that Visa policy does not allow merchants to establish minimum or maximum amount limits for Visa card transactions.  We have forwarded the information you provided to the appropriate area for processing.  …

Visa U.S.A. is a membership corporation made up of over 14,000 financial institutions.  These institutions issue their own Visa cards and sign up merchants to accept Visa cards.  They also set the terms and conditions for their merchant relationships and handle any customer service matters relating to them.  Visa does not have access to cardholder accounts or merchant records.  …

(In the future) we suggest that you notify your Visa card Issuer of any merchant practices that you believe are inappropriate, such as establishment of minimum or maximum amount limits for Visa card transactions.  It is not necessary for your Issuer to be the merchant’s financial institution in order to file a complaint on your behalf.

So, as noted in my last post, the best course of action is to contact your local bank when you believe a merchant has gotten out of line.  Merchants are absolutely, positively, unconditionally prohibited from setting a minimum or maximum purchase amount (I am totally financing my next car on my 0.9% card).  Merchants are prohibited from imposing a surcharge for credit card usage (I immediately wanted to test this on a gas station with different cash / credit prices, but I can’t find any; maybe that’s why).  And as was pointed out in the comments, merchants are also prohibited from asking you for photo ID (unless your card isn’t signed).

And again, be gentle on the little guys.  Making some noise at Wal-Mart or Taco Bell is one thing, since it can be reasonably expected that they have the means to enforce a legal company-wide policy.  They’ve also got the profit margins and/or business sense to mitigate their card processing fees.  But when it comes to Joe’s Pizza or some one-off boutique store, consider the possible consequences of a violation.  By all means express your dissatisfaction to the owner, but consider whether getting them fined for a violation does more harm than good.

Finally, as of 2005, merchants can be held liable for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act for printing your credit card number on a receipt.  They may show a portion of the number — most merchants strike out all but the last four digits — but they absolutely may not print the complete card number on your receipt.  Whether or not they can do so on THEIR receipt is uncertain.  When this law took effect I was working for a major nationwide retailer whose multi-billion-dollar legal team decided that printing the card number on OUR copies of receipts was prohibited, but I see a number of merchants who still print the number on their copies.

Since the FCRA provides for damages of $1000 per offense, and because merchants — even the little guys — have had four years to get used to the idea (amended in 2004, effective in 2005), it might be worth filling in small claims court if the merchant isn’t receptive to your concerns.  A number of downtown venues have failed to comply, and with the wide statute of limitations, I have enough receipts saved up to pay for my next car.  Let this serve as notice to all of the downtown venues who haven’t brought their card processing terminals into compliance:  I’ll be stopping by.