Ask LH: Can The Police Slug Me With A Credit Card Surcharge Without Warning?

Dear LH, I recently paid for my son's impounded vehicle to be released early over the phone. When I called, they quoted $914 and the lady sent a receipt for this amount. However, I was later sent an email stating that they charged me a 3% surcharge for using my credit card. I was not informed or asked about the surcharge otherwise I would have paid cash on pick up. Who do I complain to as they are not interested. Thanks, Ripped Off

Payment terminal picture from Shutterstock

Dear RO,

So you were originally quoted $914.00 and then charged $941.42? We can understand your frustration. The specific amount makes it even more annoying — $27 is enough to really sting but arguably not worth the time and effort of pursuing. With that said, you should still take them to task over this purely on principle.

It's entirely legal for Australian businesses to add a surcharge when customers opt to use a credit card. Banks charge them a fee for credit card transactions, so it's not unreasonable for them to pass this expense onto the customer. However, they are only permitted to recover "reasonable costs" and they are certainly supposed to inform the customer first.

Here's what the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has to say on the matter of credit card surcharges (emphasis ours):

Businesses can choose whether or not to pass on the cost of accepting credit card payments to their customers. However, if you decide to impose a credit card fee, you must ensure your customers are aware — before they enter into the transaction or contract — that a fee will apply and the amount of the fee.

The fact that you were dealing with a police department doesn't excuse this oversight in the slightest; they need to follow consumer laws just like a regular merchant. You should absolutely report this to the relevant consumer protection agency. You can find contact information for each state and territory here. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Steps required.
    1 - Go back to the agency that charged you and ask for a refund of the surcharge. Do it in writing if you have to. Any correspondence you then take to...
    2 - Make complaint to Fair Trading in your state. They will follow up and advise action required if they can't get satisfaction which is...
    3 - Consumer tribunal in your state. Commonly if you get to this point - you then should claim the cost to administer the entire thing - which may include administration and personal costs. This is usually the bit businesses try to avoid because a $30 charge can end up costing them hundreds of dollars.

    While I'm rooting for RO on this one, who wants to put money on the police response being that the original impound ticket is the notice which contains the fine print advice of the surcharge?

    3% is more than standard, though. Most commercial/corporate groups go 1-1.5%.

      If they tried that, I'd argue that the woman quoted a different price to what you were charged.

    If you get a quote for an amount, that's the amount you're authorizing to be charged to your credit card. If they take more than this amount, it's theft.

      In fact since you have a receipt without the fee then your first point of call would probably be to call your credit card company and say "I was mis-charged on , I have the invoice for the transaction in amount " and ask for them to fix the charge saying that the merchant has refused.

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