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Business

Don't card the cardholder

Legal Notes

Gavin Goffe

Wednesday, September 19, 2012    

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DOES your business require customers to present photo ID in order to pay by credit card? Do you make your employees write down your customer's Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN) before they fill up or check out? If you've answered yes to either of these questions, you're probably not going to like this article.

Credit card companies place great emphasis on accessibility and convenience. They invest heavily in fraud detection and prevention so that their customers don't need to sacrifice convenience for safety, wherever they are. VISA's slogan has never been "everywhere you and your ID want to be". But that is exactly the message that is conveyed whenever merchants are allowed to ignore the rules set by credit card companies.

According to MasterCard's Worldwide Rules (updated 1st August 2012): "A merchant must not refuse to complete a MasterCard transaction solely because a cardholder who has complied with conditions for the presentment of a card at the POI [Point of Interaction] refuses to provide additional identification information, except as specifically permitted or required by the standards." As far as I could tell, there is no special standard that applies to Jamaican stores and gas stations. MasterCard will not prevent a merchant from asking for identification, but it makes it explicit that the provision of identification cannot be a condition for acceptance of the card, save for specific cases, such as where the merchant requires verification of the customer's address for shipping purposes.

VISA has a similar stance. The following is taken from their Card Acceptance Guidelines for Merchants. "When should you ask a cardholder for an official government ID? Although Visa rules do not preclude merchants from asking for cardholder ID except in the specific circumstances discussed in this guide, merchants cannot make an ID a condition of acceptance. Therefore, merchants cannot as part of their regular card acceptance procedures refuse to complete a purchase transaction because a cardholder refuses to provide an ID. It is important that merchants understand that the requesting of a cardholder ID does not change the merchant's liability for chargebacks. However, it can slow down a sale and annoy the customer. In some cases, it may even deter the use of the Visa card and result in the loss of a potential sale. Visa believes merchants should not ask for ID as part of their regular card acceptance procedures. Laws in several countries also make it illegal for merchants to write a cardholder's personal information, such as an address or phone number, on a sales receipt."

Why, then, do some merchants insist on breaking the rules? Some of them allege that their bankers require them to check for IDs. Those merchants must not be banking with NCB. To its credit, NCB has consistently tried to discourage the practice of 'carding' the cardholder. Some merchants believe that writing down the customer's ID number will limit their risk to chargebacks, which is the reversal of the payment. VISA disagrees. Then there is the argument that it can't hurt to check ID, even if the customer complains. Big mistake.

The TRN, which is often the same as the driver's licence number, is the most commonly logged and stored form of identification in Jamaica. You'd be amazed at the information that's easily accessible, whether online or over the telephone, using just a person's TRN and his or her home address. Even moreso if the person's address on their driver's licence happens to also be their billing address for the credit card. Did you know that you can access a registered voter's present or former home address via the Electoral Office of Jamaica's website simply by entering their full name and date of birth? With a person's full name, home address, billing address, date of birth, and TRN, a person's identity could be stolen before the car's tank is full. If an unscrupulous employee is able to perpetrate a fraud because he or she was allowed unnecessary access to a client's personal information, the employer may be held liable to pay the cost. In their attempt to reduce fraud, some merchants may be unwittingly, yet recklessly facilitating it.

Both VISA and MasterCard have procedures that permit customers to file complaints about merchants who violate their rules. MasterCard even allows you to make a report via their website at http://www.mastercard.us/support/merchant-violations.html

On the other hand, some cardholders like the fact that they are asked for ID whenever they present their credit card. To ensure this happens, some will refuse to sign the back of the credit card, or write the words "Check ID" on the back. Refusing to sign the back of the card is not a good idea, as most cards are not valid unless signed. Further, if the card is stolen and the thief signs the card before presenting it, the signature on his or her purchases will be a match for the signature on the card. Signing the back of the card and writing "Check ID" there as well might be the best option for those who are so minded.

Businesses and customers alike should be aware that different rules apply based on how the credit card is used. There are clearly suspicious circumstances where a retailer may feel more comfortable by checking a customer's ID beforehand. VISA recommends that merchants be wary of customers who make several purchases of expensive items within a short space of time. What looks like fraud to some will look like Fashion's Night Out to others. But for merchants who routinely and as a matter of policy refuse to accept a credit card without valid ID, your number is up.

Gavin Goffe is a partner at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon and a member of the firm's litigation department. He may be contacted at gavin.goffe@mfg.com.jm or through the firm's website at www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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