“Use of debit cards to pay unemployment benefits draws criticism” [via PrimeBuzz.com]

August 21, 2008

“The state began phasing in the use of debit cards on July 9. So far, every claim for unemployment benefits that is processed on Wednesday or Thursday receives the debit card, Olivo said. Claims processed other days still get either a check or direct deposit.”

Click here to read more

 

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Premier Shopping Mall Agrees with WayTooHigh.com

August 19, 2008

I have long advocated against and drawn attention to the unscrupulous and anti-business practices of Visa and MasterCard’s electronic gift cards.  The cards raise questions about the hidden interchange fees forced upon unsuspecting merchants and consumers who do not understand that those “convenient” payment solutions come with a hefty price tag; retailers are forced to pay interchange feeswhen those cards are used; many shoppers loose out when micro-balances remain on the cards.  Even retailer-generated gift cards come with costly baggage; many times the small balances are simply not redeemed because it is to hard to cash in a few dollars that remain on the card and to pay the exact amount remaining.

Just down the road from ScanMyPhotos.com [a division of 30 Minute Photos Etc – lead plaintiff in the merchant interchange antitrust price-fixing litigation] and home to our Irvine, California-based headquarters is the famed South Coast Plaza.  According to Wikipedia, “South Coast Plaza is an upscale shopping mall, and one of the most notable shopping centers in the United States. In 2004, Women’s Wear Daily reported that the mall had the highest sales per square foot of any mall in California, at about $800. It is also the third biggest mall in the United States.”  South Coast Plaza has disbanded its electronic gift cards for paper certificates.

As reported by Orange County Register reporter, Hang Nguyen on August 19,

South Coast Plaza recently switched from its mall gift cards to gift certificates.  The decision was driven by shoppers and retailers who preferred the “ease of gift certificates and were frustrated by the limitations of the gift-card program,” which launched less than two years ago, the Costa Mesa mall said in a statement.  If shoppers wanted to pay their purchases with both cash and a gift card, they had to know the exact amount on the card. To get that info, they went online, slid the card through one of about 30 readers at the mall or called a number on the card. However, the retailer was not able to tell them their card balance.  And if the retailer punched the wrong amount for the card twice, the shopper might have been locked out from using the card for 5 to 7 business days.  With certificates, the dollar amount is on the paper.  Also with cards, after one year, a $2-per-month fee was applied to unused balances. This fee was charged by American Express, a South Coast Plaza spokeswoman said. The mall said it did not have control over this charge, which is common from third-party issuers.  Because gift-certificate processing and management is done in-house, South Coast Plaza can choose to not charge shoppers a fee. It considers its no fee for certificates as part of the mall’s customer service.  Also with gift cards, it would take five to seven business days for the customers to see the return issued on the card, unless they returned the merchandise the same day.  Funds are immediately available after returns of purchases made with gift certificates.  If a shopper does not use the entire certificate amount, the retailer can give up to $20 cash back or a store credit. Or the customer can go to the concierge desk to have the certificate broken down into smaller amounts.  “While it may seem like a surprising decision, we discovered that high-tech options don’t always translate to better customer service,” Debra Gunn Downing, the mall’s executive director of marketing, said in a statement.  Shoppers can convert gift cards into gift certificates at any concierge location. All existing gift cards will continue to be honored.” 

Visa and MasterCard branded gift cards are even worse and come with added concerns as identified by several prior WayTooHigh.com postings.  Now, a leading shopping centre has caught on and switched back to paper certificates.

All About the Visa and MasterCard Promotional Gift Card Scheme

Visa and MasterCard Branded Gift Cards Force Unjust Penalty on Consumers

Visa and MasterCard Gift Cards: Almost as Profitable as Interchange Fees

Visa and MasterCard Gift Cards, Part II


The New York Times’ Personal Tech Columnist, David Pogue Profiled ScanMyPhotos.com

August 13, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The New York Times’ Personal Tech Columnist, David Pogue Profiled ScanMyPhotos.com

Read the New York Times August 14th ScanMyPhotos.com profile here.
“… the ScanMyPhotos.com service could turn out to be the best $50, plus shipping and optional services, you’ll ever spend.”

“…the results are well worth it. [ScanMyPhotos.com] ships your original photos back to you by Priority Mail (two or three days), complete with a nicely custom-labeled DVD.”
“The scans look very good.”
“ScanMyPhotos probably isn’t getting rich by charging only $50 per 1,000 photos. Clearly, the real money is in the optional services, some of which are ingenious and nearly irresistible. For example, for $125, the company will send you a pre-addressed shipping box that holds 1,600 photos (4 x 6); the price includes scanning and prepaid shipping both ways. If you buy two, you get a third box free, making the deal, when you consider postage, even better than the $50 offer.”
“… you can order a hardbound, custom-printed book containing every single scanned picture; the company even rotates the vertical shots upright for you. The layout is not fancy — the pictures are small and numbered — but in my family, this book was a huge hit.”

 

 

 


“The Hidden Fee That Costs Us Money” (via blogger)

August 9, 2008

Excerpt from a blogger

Interchange fees. I’ve talked about these before, but not in a post all their own. These little buggers are responsible for consumers paying over $400 a year in “fees,” whether they use a credit card or not. And, in my opinion, that’s worthy of a rant all its own.

Hopefully, most of you have heard of interchange fees, but some may not. That’s the thing about these fees – credit card companies don’t want the average consumer to know about them, because then we can complain. It’s in their contracts with merchants not to disclose this fee on the receipts. Basically, a credit card company charges the merchant – usually about 2% of the transaction amount – to process credit card transactions. Every time you swipe your card, the merchant has to pay the credit card company. There are numerous sets of fees they have to pay, but it’s this interchange fee that indirectly affects us consumers the most.

click here to read more.


8-8-08: Visa’s Olympic Moment Tarnished By Mega-Billion Dollar Battle Against its Customers

August 7, 2008

Throughout the next two weeks, as the world gathers together to celebrate the Olympic Games, millions of businesses worldwide are sure to take note of Visa Inc’s Olympic sponsorship.  While the company poses as a friend to consumers, each time you watch a Visa Inc. TV commercial, remember that they are part of what could be the nation’s largest illegal antitrust conspiracy.  As a lead plaintiff and included among the first to launch the payment card interchange fee and merchant discount antitrust litigation, I anticipate many opportunities to review and comment on Visa Inc’s Olympic marketing campaigns

From the complaint filing, here are several points of interest:

 

For over 40 years America’s largest banks have unlawfully fixed the fees imposed on merchants for transactions processed over the Visa and MasterCard Networks and have collectively imposed restrictions on merchants that prevent them from protecting themselves against those fees. Despite the Networks’ and the banks’ recent attempts to avoid antitrust liability, their conduct continues to violate the Sherman Act.”

 

All of the Bank Defendants belong to both networks and have conspired with each other and with the Visa and MasterCard Associations to fix the level of Interchange Fees that they charge to merchants. Many of the Bank Defendants are, or were during the relevant period, represented on the Visa and/or MasterCard Boards of Directors at the times when those Boards collectively fixed uniform Interchange Fees and imposed the anticompetitive Anti-Steering Restraints and Merchant Restraints, tying and bundling arrangements, and exclusive-dealing. The Bank Defendants delegated to the Visa and MasterCard Boards of Directors the authority to take those actions.  Each of the Bank Defendants had actual knowledge of, participated in, and consciously committed itself to the conspiracies alleged [within the complaint].

 

Bank Defendants are therefore directly responsible for collectively fixing Interchange Fees within each Network and between the two Networks. Bank Defendants, acting by and through the Boards of Directors of Visa and MasterCard, are also directly responsible for the tying and bundling of separate and distinct services together in those Interchange Fees, the imposition of the Anti-Steering Restraints and engaging in the other anticompetitive conduct alleged herein. Collectively, the Bank Defendants, through their operation of Visa and MasterCard, adopted and approved the above-mentioned policies and have significantly profited from those policies. 

 

Even after the corporate restructuring of the Visa and MasterCard Networks, the banks have remained intimately involved in the imposition of supracompetitive interchange fees on merchants. Acquiring banks enter into acceptance contracts with merchants agreeing either implicitly or explicitly that the Networks’ uniform schedule of interchange fees will apply to all of the merchant’s transactions that are initiated by Visa or MasterCard Payment Cards. These Acquiring Banks understand that the same uniform schedule of Interchange Fees will be applied to transactions conducted by all other Acquiring Banks for those banks’ merchant customers. Issuing Banks enter into issuing contracts with the Networks, agreeing and understanding that they will receive Interchange Fees from merchants based upon the Networks’ uniform schedule of Interchange Fees.

 

Visa and MasterCard “are not single entities; they are consortiums of competitors”. Before the corporate restructuring, they were “owned and effectively operated by over 22,000 banks, which compete with one another in the issuance of Payment Cards and the acquiring of merchants’ transactions.”  Because of this judgment, among other things, the Networks and their member banks recognized that the Networks were “structural conspiracies” and “walking conspiracies.”

 

Various persons, firms, corporations, organizations, and other business entities, some unknown and others known, have participated as co-conspirators in the violations alleged and have performed acts in furtherance of the conspiracies. Co-conspirators include, but are not limited to, the following: (a) Issuing Banks that have issued Visa and/or MasterCard Credit and Debit Cards and have agreed to charge uniform, collectively fixed Visa and MasterCard Interchange Fees for various merchants and transactions; (b) certain banks that are or were members of the Boards of Directors of Visa or MasterCard and adopted and agreed to fix Interchange Fees for various merchants and transactions and to impose the anticompetitive Anti-Steering Restraints and Miscellaneous Exclusionary Restraints alleged herein; and (c) Acquiring Banks that acquire Visa and MasterCard transactions from members of the Classes, and that have participated in the conspiracy to collectively fix Interchange Fees.

 

Conspiracy issues.

 

Whether (a) Visa and its member banks, and (b) MasterCard and its member banks illegally fixed uniform schedules of default Interchange Fees for Credit-Card transactions, which

were imposed on merchants in the market for Network Services for such cards, thereby extracting supracompetitive Interchange Fees and Merchant Discount Fees from members of the Classes; Whether (a) Visa and its member banks, and (b) MasterCard and its member banks illegally fixed uniform schedules of default Interchange Fees for Offline-Debit-Card transactions,

which were imposed on merchants in the market for Network Services for such cards, thereby extracting supracompetitive Interchange Fees and Merchant Discount Fees from members of

the Classes; Whether (a) Visa and its member banks illegally fixed uniform schedules of default interchange fees for Interlink Offline-Debit-Card transactions, which were imposed on merchants in the market for Network Services for such cards, thereby extracting supracompetitive Interchange Fees and Merchant Discount Fees from members of the Classes;

iv. Whether Visa, MasterCard and their member banks possess or exercise market power or monopoly power in the markets alleged in this Complaint; Whether Visa and MasterCard and their dual member banks conspired with each other to fix the price of Interchange Fees imposed on the Classes in the relevant market; Whether the merchant restraints imposed by Defendants

facilitated Defendants’ respective price-fixing arrangements; Whether the conspiracies of the Visa and MasterCard Networks continued after the Networks’ reorganizations and IPOs; and Whether the per se rule or the rule of reason should be applied to analyze the price-fixing schemes of Visa, MasterCard, and their respective member banks.

 

b. Monopolization issues.  Whether Visa and its member banks exercise market power or monopoly power that was willfully acquired and/or maintained, in various markets as alleged in this Complaint; and; Whether MasterCard and its member banks exercise market power or monopoly power that was willfully acquired and/or maintained, in various markets as alleged in this Complaint.

 

c. Impact and damages issues.  Whether virtually all class members were overcharged for Visa and MasterCard transactions when higher Interchange Fees were extracted from them than could have occurred in a competitive market; Unlike Payment-Card transactions in other jurisdictions, the fees imposed by banks on merchants for Payment-Card transactions in the United States are almost completely unregulated by any level or unit of government. Rather, those fees, and the rules that apply to all Payment Card transactions, are privately and comprehensively regulated by Visa, MasterCard, and their member banks. Thus, the Relevant Market alleged in this complaint can reach an equilibrium between supply and merchants’ demand for those services only if market forces are effective. At all times relevant to this action, Visa, MasterCard and their member banks have conspired to restrain these market forces.


Do Visa and MasterCard Force Stores to Accept Credit Cards?

August 7, 2008

Millions of dollars in Pavlovian-like marketing force consumers to use electronic plastic payments  rather than cash; leading to also forcing merchants to accept Visa and MasterCard. 

Click here to view one example.

How Visa and MasterCard Force Businesses to Accept Credit Cards for Payments

While the actors in this “Life Takes Visa” spot might be all smiles and singing, they surely would have a different expression if they were on the receiving end of those plastic cards.  Millions of retailers do anything but dance when they open their monthly interchange bill for being forced to acceptVisa and MasterCard’s.  Then again, Visa surely smiles, as they earn a “discount” fee from each transaction.  Why exactly do they call it a “discount” fee anyway when it could also be described as an extortion fee?  It is anything but a discount.  The fees paid to Visa and Mastercard’s member banks and to the two giant credit card associations lead towards a nearly $50 billion annual hidden tax on Americans.


Did Visa and MasterCard’s Greed Force Starbucks to Fire 600 Employees?

August 7, 2008

Repost

[The] news that Starbucks was terminating 600 staffers is important because the company could have saved those jobs if they didn’t fall victim to the credit card associations’ scheme to train consumers to use plastic rather than cash for small, micro-payment transactions. 

Yes, it is easy to handover a premium signature card for a cup of coffee, but did Starbucks know that on those one-dollar transactions, much of the profits are going to Visa and MasterCard’s member banks? 

While we are unsure of what Starbucks’ merchant interchange fee rates are, it is transparent that the cost on their small items is vast.  Credit card payments are useful to encourage add on purchases when you don’t have cash, but most people have a few bucks in their pocket.

  • What is Starbucks’ annual global merchant interchange fee? 
  • Has the company also wondered why each international region comes with unique interchange fees, even though the electronic payment service is nearly identical?  
  • Do the Baristas know the difference when they process payment cards as “credit” vs “debit?” 
  • Has Starbucks wondered why there are interchange fees on the four-party electronic payment network, but no fees when they process Starbucks Cards across their network of retail and online ordering.
  

 Want to know more about lead plaintiff ScanMyPhotos.com?  Click here and read their daily blog: Tales from the World of Photo Scanning