A college student from Winnetka, Illinois jumped into a cab for a short ride to a restaurant in downtown Chicago, but instead of a couple dollars, she was charged almost $800.
In December, 20-year-old Becky Siegel was running late to meet friends at the Sweetwater Tavern and Grille, so she went immediately from the Metra train to a cab at the Ogilvie Transportation Center.
The restaurant was less than two miles from the station and Becky’s mother, Susan Siegel, told WFLD Fox 32 News, "He was apparently very friendly and chatty, and was talking about pedestrians crossing where they shouldn't." Once she arrived at her destination, the student asked the cab driver if she could use her credit card for the fare. “He gave her a price and she thinks it was, you know, under ten dollars,” explained Susan. “And so she said, ‘Can I use a credit card?’ And he said, ‘Oh, my swiper isn't working. Here give it to me and I'll do it on my Square."
The Square device and app allow merchants to charge customers through a mobile device. Becky handed over her credit card, told the driver to add a $2 tip, and signed the app. Becky told the Chicago Tribune, "I guess I didn't pay attention or I didn't look…I just signed my name with my finger and I left."
The problem was, as Susan Siegel found out while reviewing her transactions, instead of a charge under $12, the card was charged a whopping $787.33. Ms. Siegel contacted Visa customer service to dispute the charge, but because Becky had signed off on the transaction, a refund was refused. The Chicago Police department told Siegel that there was nothing they could do about it either. Angry about what transpired, Siegel contacted the driver, Ali Ghazanfari, for a resolution. Instead the cab driver stood behind the nearly $800 charge.
Ghazanfari’s tune changed when Siegel got in touch with the Chicago Tribune’s, “What’s Your Problem?” problem solvers. They reached out to the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. "I remember exactly what happened,” the driver told the Tribune. I made a mistake on the fare." Ms. Siegel said, "He called me two or three times, and he was in a panic. What I do know is that he is really sorry that he got caught."
Ghazanfari said he made efforts to contact Square and his bank to refund the Siegels’ money but because the company had only the last four digits of their credit card, that was not possible. Another request to Visa by Ghazanfari and Siegel working together, was unsuccessful.
Mika Stambaugh, a spokesperson for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said that they contacted Square and the company promised to send Siegel a check for $787.33 by the end of this week. Stambaugh added, "Our department has suspended his public chauffeur license pending this investigation… He cooperated with us but he's not in the country so we still have a few unresolved issues pertaining to this case.”
So how can you avoid incidents like this from happening to you? Ms. Stambaugh explained that, "The problem here was that Square is a non-approved device. So we want to urge people to use the front and back mounted credit card device payment systems in our cabs and that's it." She also said that passengers should never allow their credit card to leave their hands and if it does, to contact 3-1-1. Finally, a lesson that Becky Siegel learned the hard way, always double check the final charges before signing a credit card receipt.