Pilot Pirates

  • October 11, 2023

A friend of mine recently bought $50′ worth of gas using his debit card and was charged another $150 for it. Pilot – the company the that owns the station where he filled up (and got drained) apparently has a  “policy” of applying “authorization fees” to gas purchases made with ATM cards. A “hold” is placed on additional funds – beyond what you just thought you spent on the gas you pumped. After a day or two, the “hold” is relinquished but in the meantime, Pilot enjoys the float – the use of your money, which it effectively seized for its own uses.

This sounds as criminal as it is unbelievable – and yet, it’s no lie. ABC News in Amarillo, TX confirmed what my friend in another part of the country related just happened to him. According to ABC news story, Pilot denies placing the “hold” on customer’s funds; it says that it is their customers’ banks – the issuers of their ATM cards – that are doing the “holding.”

But according to the banks, that’s not true.

We believe the authorization is coming from Pilot. They control their gas pumps for authorization fees, so we do believe it’s Pilot,” said Amarillo National Bank Electronic Bank Manager, Beth Stewart.

This dirty business goes far beyond the business commonly practiced by banks and online financial businesses that use your money for sometimes several days at a time by pretending it takes time to transfer it from one account to another. In fact, the transfer is instantaneous; it happens at keystroke speed. But over the course of the 24-48 hours they say it takes to “process” the transaction, they have use of your money. Of a lot of people’s money. It amounts to an interest-free loan probably in the amount of many millions of dollars in the aggregate.

But you – the source of the funds – don’t get paid a cent for this use of your money. Indeed, you are sometimes charged a processing fee for the transfer!

But at least the banks aren’t charging you for purchases you haven’t made – as appears to be the case with regard to some gas station chains. As mentioned earlier, my friend had an additional $150 effectively drained from his bank account after he used his ATM card to purchase $50′ worth of gas at a Pilot station. The same thing happened to a woman named Edna Cuellar after she filled up – and paid up.

She then discovered she’d paid for much more than she thought she just bought. “It’s unheard of. I don’t need them to be holding $151 dollars back. I have things to do with that money.”

As did my friend.

“What if I had planned to go grocery shopping after filling up,” he asked me? Well, if the “hold” placed by Pilot encompassed all the remaining funds available in his account, he would not be buying groceries. Meanwhile, Pilot would be making money on the money they’d effectively “borrowed” for a few days.

Keep in mind the most outrageous aspect of this dirty business:

When a person uses an ATM/debit card to buy something, the cost of that something is immediately debited from the account. That is what an ATM card is all about. It is not like a credit card, which sends you a statement – that is to say, a bill – for the credit you used to make a purchase using the card. If you don’t pay the full amount, then you get hit with interest charges on the money you effectively borrowed from the credit card company. But the funds in a debit/ATM account are your money and they are spent just like cash in your pocket except you don’t actually handle the money. Instead you swipe or scan the card. But the exchange is fundamentally the same.

Except for one thing.

As my friend (and Edna Cuellar and probably lots of other people) have found out, ATM cards can be used to make people pay for more than what they thought they were buying. It’s theft, in other words – without the up-front-about-it honesty of a thief who grabs what’s in your wallet. These electronic thieves just drain your wallet.

Oh, but they give it back after a day or two and maybe three; i.e., they release the “hold.” It would not matter if they gave it back after five minutes. The relevant fact is that they are “holding” what’s not theirs and – apparently – it’s entirely legal.

. . .

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