By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE
Like any country, Mexico has certain practices that would never happen anywhere else, and sometimes we become conditioned to accepting those quirky conventions with a “well, welcome to Mexico.”
One of those practices that can easily be seen as ordinary is taking out your credit card for payment and hearing, “Oh, I’m sorry, if you are going to pay with a credit card and not with cash, we have to charge you 3 percent extra since that is what the bank charges us.”
Anyone with a Visa card and any time in Mexico has heard this line before.
But is it legal?
The Central Bank of Mexico (Banxico) periodically reviews the rates that banks may charge businesses for the service of providing them this form of cashless transaction.
In Mexico, there is no actual government law or regulation that prohibits a business from passing the commissions off to the consumer, but the contract the business signs upon receiving the terminal states that it must agree not to pass the commission off to the consumer.
If they do, the bank can cancel their access to a credit card terminal for up to four years.
So what is a consumer to do?
Mexico’s regulatory agency that serves to protect the financial and borrowing rights of consumers, the National Commission for the Protection of Users of Financial Services (Condusef), recommends that if a vendor tries to pass on the commission to the consumer, the consumer should contact the bank that owns the terminal and present a written complaint.
If that does not get a response, the consumers should report the bank to one of the 36 Condusef offices nationwide, or call the Condusef hotline at 800-999-8080.
The fine that the Condusef can impose on a bank for not responding to a consumer’s complaint is between 500 and 2000 days’ minimum wage. That translates into a fine that could be as much as 346,000 pesos, so there are some teeth attached to a complaint.
Still, this seems like a good bit of work for the consumer, especially if they do not speak Spanish.
I have had better luck the two times this has happened to me, handling the situation like this: Very politely and without everyone needing to hear me, I ask the person charging me, “Could you please contact your manager and ask if he or she still wants to charge me that commission because, if you do, I will report this to both the bank and Condusef and you will lose the right to have a credit card terminal for four years. When you received the terminal, you agreed in the contract you signed with the bank that you would not pass on the commission to the consumer.”
In both those occasions, the cashier came back and said, “Okay, the manager said not to charge you extra.” I still got a look from the cashier as if I was stealing, but it worked.
The Condusef also recommends refusing to pay and going to another establishment, but that would be difficult if the charge was for a service, like getting your hair cut or a meal you had already eaten.
There is one exception to this rule, and it concerns wholesale membership stores, like Costco and Sam’s Club. They too accept credit cards, but their specific contract as private membership stores with the bank states that the member, the consumer, agrees to pay the credit card commission as part of the membership contract.
The bottom line, if the purchase is from a public business, do not feel pressured into paying for something that is not your responsibility to reimburse.