22 July 2014

The Edward Ringwald Blog: I'm still here!

The Edward Ringwald Blog.  It's still here!

I know, it's been a long while since I posted something new here.  Unfortunately, my schedule has been so hectic, especially when it comes to being a volunteer at the Florida Railroad Museum among other things.  Add to that the regular day job I have during the week - well, you get the picture.

But there is one thing I have never forgotten, and that is the blog you are reading right now on your computer.  Or on your tablet.  Or on your smartphone.  Or whatever.  And I can't forget my website, EdwardRingwald.com!

So, let's get right down to business here.

First, I had a third blog I added just several months ago, the In The Shadow of the Railroad Museum Blog which is life being a volunteer at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish.  I have decided to discontinue this blog for the time being; who knows it may be back.

Second, I had a page on the Florida Railroad Museum in the features area of EdwardRingwald.com.  I have taken that page down for the moment so that I can give that page an overhaul; like the Shadow of the Railroad blog it may be back too.

Now that we got the nitty gritty of some changes here, let's get right down to some topics that I have meant to discuss for some time.  What's on my mind the most is about those gas station credit card pump readers, and I have discussed this in an earlier blog entry about the dangers of using your credit or debit card at the pump.  Just recently here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area there have been incidents of credit card skimmers placed in the gas pump credit card readers which lead you to believe if it is even safe to use your credit or debit card at the pump.

The best way to ensure that your credit or debit card does not fall into the hands of criminals who are out there to get your money is to not even use these pay at the pump readers in the first place.  As most gas stations require prepayment before purchase, you can go inside and tell the clerk how much you need; you pay for your gas like you pay anything else inside the store and then you pump your gas.  It might sound inconvenient by having to go inside, but believe me it will give you plenty of peace of mind.

If you have to use a pay at the pump reader, at least use your credit card.  Keep in mind that a credit purchase can incur a significant authorization hold (usually around $75) which can put a crimp on your available credit, especially if your credit card has a very small credit limit.  Never use a debit card at a pay at pump reader; the authorization hold - especially if a debit card is run through as a credit purchase - can put a crimp on your available bank account balance which can throw you into overdrawn status if you are not careful!

How you can tell if there is a skimmer on a pay at the pump credit card reader?  According to this news release from the St. Petersburg Police Department, be on the lookout for the following:

1.  Wires sticking out from the reader.
2.  The reader appears loose or damaged.
3.  Tape or residue on the card reader slot.
4.  The reader looks different than the rest of the gas pump.

Keep in mind, too, that the more reputable gas station brands, such as Shell, employ a security tape seal placed onto several locations on the pump itself.  If the seal is broken, do not use the pump reader - instead, pay inside and alert the cashier or store manager on duty.

When it comes to getting gas for your car, keep this in mind:  If the credit card pump reader doesn't look right, go inside and pay.  Your credit card or bank account will say thank you.

And one more thing while we're on the subject of pay at the pump:  Store associates and their customer service skills.  I am not saying that all convenience store associates are bad; the majority of store associates I have had to deal with are courteous and polite but there are an unfortunate few that I have encountered that are downright discourteous or rude.  This can happen especially if you go inside to prepay for fuel with your credit or debit card.

Another trick a convenience store associate can play on you when you prepay for fuel inside the store, especially with a debit card, is that the store associate runs your prepaid fuel amount as a credit purchase.  Why should you be concerned?

Remember, if you use a debit card at the pump reader and it is set to run it through as a credit purchase, your checking account is frozen for a high amount for a given length of time until the store uploads its daily credit card sales data.  You can tell if your debit is being run as a credit at the pump:  No option to enter your PIN.  Debit PIN-based transactions happen immediately while credit transactions happen in one to two days from the day you actually make the purchase.

Now let's say you estimate you need $30 worth of gas.  You go inside and tell the sales associate you need $30 on the pump where you are parked.  You tell the associate you are paying with a debit card.  Before you know it, the associate tells you that it will be run through as a credit.

After the transaction inside is approved, you return to your vehicle and pump your gas.  Let's say you pumped $15 and that's all you can get in the car.  You go back in the store and the associate tells you that the difference will be refunded to your card.

You have paid $15 for gas.  But where's the other $15?  Since the associate ran your debit card through as a credit purchase, the authorized but not used $15 is frozen for a given length of time until the store uploads its daily credit card sales data as I mentioned earlier.  Translation:  The unspent $15 is not available to you, which can mean overdraft fees from your bank or credit union if you are not careful!  The store is holding on to your money (that you did not spend) without your permission!

After all, PIN-based debit card transactions involving fuel purchases, especially at the pump, involve a small hold of usually $1 just to make sure the card is good.  It is the credit card transaction you have to worry about.

Unfortunately, this practice is completely legal.  However, you have every right as a customer to determine where you spend your money, including for fuel purchases.  If you feel uncomfortable using the pay at the pump reader, you can always go inside and pay.  If the sales associate on duty treats you in a rude or otherwise discourteous manner, especially when it comes to prepaying for fuel, you have the right to take your business elsewhere - don't give that convenience store that mistreats you your business.

You might want to keep this pointer in mind, especially in Florida as far as its turn-ordinary-law-abiding-people-into-a-potential-criminal trespassing laws are concerned:   An honest dispute over services received - especially mistreatment by a convenience store sales associate - can easily escalate into criminal trespass when the associate or store manager calls law enforcement and either has a trespass warning issued or criminal charges for trespassing filed.

Once again, it's been a while since I posted here at the Edward Ringwald Blog but I will try to keep you updated on the latest and greatest of topics I think you will enjoy.  And be sure to check back frequently and often - you'll never know what I will have for your reading pleasure!