Jumpin’ Jack Flash

It strikes me as bizarrely ironic that at the same time everyone’s all a-tizzy over “identity theft,” credit card companies and businesses that use credit cards are making it disturbingly easy to use credit cards – whether it happens to be your credit card or someone else’s. A lot of so-called “fast casual” restaurants will swipe your card without a signature or PIN, as will most gas stations. And of course there are those ads on TV implying that the dullardly deadweights who use grubby, disgusting cash are a positive drain on efficiency, a blasphemous assault against our national religion of wham-bam-charge-it-ma’am.

Or, we can just try to entrap you into driving away from the gas station without paying. That happened to me this afternoon. I need to fill up the gas tank, so I hook up the gas pump to the car’s tank, slide my debit card in the reader, select which gas I want, wait for the tank to process the card (i.e., to read “0.00”), and fill up my tank with gas. Once I’m done, I notice that the receipt printer is apparently out of paper, since I don’t get a receipt. No big deal: I know there’s enough money in my account to cover it, and I can look up the amount later at my bank’s website. Fortunately for my criminal record, however, I had to use the restroom, so I went into the store to do so. On the way out, I realized I was kind of thirsty, so I picked up a bottle of Diet Pepsi.

“Is that all?” says the cashier. “Yeah,” I say – and then remember I didn’t get a receipt. “Oh – and I need a receipt for pump 5.” At which point the cashier informs me that actually, the pump hadn’t accepted my card. “Uh, so how did the pump work then?” Oh, because I put the pump in my car before I slid my card into the reader, the reader was disconnected.

WTF? So if I hadn’t happened to have used the restroom and bought a soda, I would have driven away, assuming I’d put about thirty bucks on my debit card. And some random cop would chase me down, and I’d have to explain the whole damned thing…that would have been big fun.

I’ve never heard of such a ridiculous system. I’m guessing this place is going to get a massive number of accidental drive-offs…and people who eventually discover, hey, that transaction never showed up on my debit card. Free gas!

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