2005-11-18 / Community

Pheffer: Stop $75 Freeze On Debit Cards

Rising gasoline prices have caused a new problem for consumers as some gas retailers – without any notification – are placing a several-day freeze of up to $75 on bank accounts of customers paying with debit cards, warns Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer. According to Pheffer, these retailers have been doing so even if the actual purchase is for much less. To address this issue, Pheffer is sponsoring legislation that requires gas companies to inform customers when they are imposing such a block. “This practice could put unaware consumers at risk of overdrawing their accounts, as they will not have access to that portion of their money. Gasoline retailers are literally blocking it out at each visit to the pump for periods of up to five days, even if the purchase price for gas is only a few dollars,” she says. Gas retailers typically impose the hold on purchases via debit cards, but it is up to the company’s merchant bank to determine the timeframe of such a block. The legislation would require gas stations to clearly indicate to every customer that they engage in this practice, allowing the consumer to choose if they want to use another form of payment or go to another gas station.

“Money is tight – especially with record prices at the pump,” Pheffer said. “The oil companies – still bringing in record profits – are punishing innocent consumers by blocking an unacceptable amount, even if the purchase price is only for a few dollars. This practice must be brought to the consumers’ attention as soon as possible so that they can make informed choices when filling up their automobiles.”

Assemblywoman Pheffer said some New York residents could be unknowingly bouncing checks because the blocks on debit card purchases prevent consumers from accessing their own money for a set period of time. There is no reason why the gas companies cannot charge for the actual purchase price, which is known immediately after filling up. “Debit card ‘blocking’ by these major retailers must be addressed to prevent New Yorkers from suffering financial hardships,” Assemblywoman Pheffer said. “Gas prices are high enough as it is. We cannot have the gasoline companies tying up more of our money on top of it. I urge the Senate and governor to join us.”

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