Sometimes there is just no substitute for having a wallet full of bills, especially in emergency situations. This is a lesson Jim Shepley learned after one of his drivers had an emergency south of the border.
Shepley is owner of Southern Oaks Ltd., an Essex, Ontario-based trucking company that hauls recyclable materials from Canada to the US. Normally his trucks cross the border about 100 times per day, heading into Michigan and Ohio, and although Southern Oaks vehicles spend a lot of time in the States, they very rarely require any services there.
“We’re trying to be really self-sufficient,” said Shepley. “We have an in-yard fuelling. I’ve got a 10,000 sq. ft. repair facility and five full-time mechanics. Not that we don’t get outside work done. We’re in and out of a lot of recycling yards so tires are a big issue for us.”
Recently, tires, or more accurately a single tire, forced one of Shepley’s drivers to turn to outside help. He discovered that ones of his tires was failing and needed to be repaired, so he went into the closest facility—the Pilot Flying J located off I-75 at exit 32A—to get it fixed. It was only after the job was done that the perfectly normal, but inconvenient situation started to unfold in unpredictable ways.
Since Southern Oaks drivers don’t normally have to pay for service, this particular driver wasn’t carrying a corporate credit card, although Southern Oaks has one. Shepley said the company has a US dollar Mastercard issued by a Canadian bank. So the driver called the office and requested the number for the card in order to pay the repair bill.
Despite the account being in good standing with the bank, the driver was told Pilot Flying J couldn’t accept the card as a means of payment. And the reason given was that the card was issued to a company with a Canadian address, and therefore was associated with Canadian postal code, and the Pilot Flying J computer systems required a numbers-only zip code to be entered in conjunction with the credit card number.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Shepley. “I’ve been in business for 27 years and I’ve never heard of such a thing.
“They told me, ‘you should have a card with us.’ I said, ‘Really? On the door it says you accept Mastercard.’ ‘Well not Canadian Mastercards,’ that’s what she told me.”
In order to settle the bill, the driver had to come up with cash on the spot.
After Shepley told Truck News his story, we called Pilot Flying J, to see if we could get an explanation about why a zip code is required when making a payment with a credit card in the company’s US locations. According to Paul Perrier, director of Canadian operations, it comes down to technology and liability.
For starters, zip codes are often used as a means of verifying the identity of a card, because the US is behind the rest of the world in card protection measures.
“Frankly it is something all of the retailers in the US do because it is something the credit card companies require since there is so much fraud in the US. As you know, the US does not have chip and PIN technology like we do in Canada, because we adopted it from Europe. We’re probably a couple of years away from chip and PIN in the US.”
He added that not having the physical credit card meant the Pilot Flying J location could have been opening itself up to liability if it had processed the payment.
“I think you’ll probably find in a lot of locations they wouldn’t take the card number over the phone because the responsibility is assumed by the retailer,” said Perrier.
“By all rights, as a retailer, he shouldn’t have been punching in the number in the first place. The biggest thing here, is if it happened in Canada and he’d been a Canadian driver, he would have had even more problems with it because we have chip and PIN up here. They won’t even keypunch the codes if you don’t have the card with you.”
Perrier said that had this been a corporate fleet card, instead of a credit card, the transaction would have likely gone through.
“If he had a fleet card, it wouldn’t have been a problem. We call for numbers all the time in the US and in Canada. When drivers come in, if their fleet cards don’t work at the pumps they come into the store and they give us the 1-800 number. We will phone in and get voice authorization on the fuel purchase and pay for it that way. That’s where the difference will be.
“These fleet cards are something we work with the companies on and we can control them. Credit cards are mandated by the credit card companies. Whatever they put in place, we have to follow, or they will not authorize the charge. That’s the difference and what we’re dealing with.”
According to Perrier, by even attempting to enter the Southern Oaks credit card number manually, the retail location was taking a big risk.
“When you key punch a credit card number in, the credit card company assumes no responsibility whatsoever. If somebody comes into my retail establishment with a credit card and I swipe it, the credit card company takes the liability on that credit card, so if it’s fraudulent or if they’ve run up $100 worth of gas and they’ve counterfeited that card, the credit card company takes the hit for that, but the minute I touch the keypad and I punch it in, all of the liability is assumed by the retailer. By that, the dealer saying ‘yes, I will take the card number over the phone’ and punching that in, they’ve assumed responsibility. From that aspect, I thought the service was pretty good.”
The issue of credit card liability is a complicated one, according to a Mastercard spokesperson, as there are many parties involved in every transaction. And every party will have its own rules regarding liability. So while one party, say the retailer, may believe a certain liability rule has been imposed by Mastercard, that may or may not have actually been the case. Instead the rule may have ben put in place by the acquirer (the company that owns the card swipe or PIN insert terminal and that “holds” the transaction until it is picked up by the Mastecard network and delivered to the issuing institution for credit verification).
In order to avoid complications due to conflicting liability rules, the spokesperson offered a simple piece of advice: “The best thing to say is that the driver and all consumers should carry their physical cards.”