Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, says a car wash cleaned him out of $50 in what he suspects is becoming a common scam. And hell hath no fury like a legislator ripped off, so he is moving to outlaw what happened to him.
He says he recently went to a self-service car wash, swiped a credit card reader and it activated a high-pressure wand to wash his car. When he turned off the wand, he figured it would turn off the credit card reader, too. It didn’t.
"If you don’t actually push the stop button on the credit card reader itself, it apparently will continue to charge you until the next car shows up and swipes the reader," Hutchings said. At least that was the case at the car wash that he was using, the lawmaker says. He says when his credit card bill arrived, he found a charge for nearly $50 for what should have cost only a few dollars. He was unable to reach the owner of the car wash. He says he tried unsuccessfully to protest the bill with his credit-card company.
"They said, ‘Well did you receive the service?’ I said, ‘Well kind of, but not all $50 worth.’ ‘Well were there any instructions?’ That’s where they get off on the technicality because it says when you are finished, push the button," Hutchings says. "My guess if it happened to me, it has happened to thousands of people. It’s just a sneaky-bugger way of getting people on a technicality."
He adds that he later talked to a manager at another car wash, and asked him about what happened with the earlier charge — without revealing that he was a legislator.
"It’s interesting what people will tell you when they don’t know who you are," Hutchings says. The man told him the industry has no laws governing how it can use credit-card readers. He says the man told him, "If they want to put a time limit or maximum on it, they can do that. If they want to let it run, they can do that as well."
Hutchings adds, "He said other places are even worse and said Las Vegas is the … rip-off center for doing things like that. He told me I should feel lucky that I didn’t live in Las Vegas. But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt annoyed."
He says the owner also justified allowing credit card readers to run, saying people might scrub tires for several minutes and want to turn the wand on again. "I said, ‘really?’ He was trying to explain that it was just business, and I’m like, ‘Yes it is just business, like loan sharking.’ "
So Hutchings is writing a bill that would require car washes either to have credit card readers automatically turn off when washer wands and similar equipment are switched off, or set a reasonable maximum — which he is still working on — for time or amounts charged.
Rick Diehl, a board member of both the Western and Utah Car Wash associations and owner of Turbo Wash in Midvale, says Hutchings may have been the victim of a bad actor. Most car washes already have reasonable maximums for credit card readers, so legislation is not needed, Diehl said.
"It’s kind of like if you go to a restaurant and you get a bad hamburger, you’re not going to go back to that place. It’s not necessarily that the whole food industry is bad," Diehl says. "I don’t like to legislate everything."
Diehl says most car washes he is familiar with set card readers for a maximum charge of $10, including at his own car wash.
He adds that the industry does not have machinery that will automatically turn off a card reader when car-wash wands stop, so Hutchings "may be asking for something that does not exist" as one option in the bill.
Diehl adds that if a maximum charge of, say, $10 were set, with inflation over time that limit would lose value and potentially hurt car washes. Still, he says the car wash industry has yet to see a bill, so it has taken no position on the issue.
Hutchings says he doesn’t expect much of a fight against his bill. "I mean good grief, what are you going to say? It’s our American right to rip people off if they are stupid?"
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