- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Two Tennessee residents are suing the nation’s largest diesel retailer over holds placed on their credit cards when they swiped at the pump, but an industry representative says the banks are really to blame.

The lawsuits filed Thursday in Tennessee say Pilot regularly places $75 to $500 holds on customers’ credit cards without their knowledge. The holds can last hours or days.

Jeff Lenard, with the National Association of Convenience Stores, did not address the specific allegations in the suit but said the policy of placing holds on pay-at-the-pump fuel purchases is standard. It is driven by the banks, which require the holds to make sure purchases get paid for, he said.

Many people assume that when they swipe their cards at the pump, they are paying the exact amount due. But that is not the case.

According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, because the amount of the purchase isn’t known at the time of the swipe, retailers are required by the banks to place a hold on the consumer’s credit or debit. The amount of the hold is up to the retailers, but generally they try to cover the maximum amount a fill-up could cost. For passenger vehicles, a typical hold is about $75. It can be considerably more for tractor-trailers.

Later, when the retailer sends a record of the transaction to the bank, the payment is resolved for the exact amount owed. The banks decide when to release the hold.

The policy can cause big problems for someone paying with a debit card, especially if that person’s checking account balance is low, Lenard said. An unexpected hold can cause a person to accumulate overdraft fees or even get locked out of his or her account, unable to make necessary purchases.

Consumers who want to avoid the hold can usually do so by using a PIN with their debit cards, Lenard said. Those are real-time transactions, and the hold should be released immediately.

The plaintiffs suing Pilot are seeking damages and asking for a court order to stop the company from placing excessive holds on customers’ credit cards.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, spokeswoman Anne LeZotte said, “Pilot Flying J is aware of the complaints and plans to vigorously defend this matter.”

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