University of Waterloo Bookstore violates Visa merchant guidelines

Those of you who know me or read this site will understand that I have very strong feelings about how financial and credit card transactions are supposed to work. Today I attempted to purchase a textbook for SCI 205, Physics of High Fidelity Sound Reproduction. Apparently the original book used for the course is out of print – as a result, the Graphics department will gladly print you a final-sale photocopy of the relevant sections for $60. While ordinarily I’d moan and complain about the price, I needed the material to complete some assignments and didn’t really have time to whine here first.

How this process is supposed to work is: you get a form printed at the information desk with a barcode and several other pieces of information – name, student ID, phone and email. You then take this form to the cashier, who will charge you the full price and place an order with Graphics for a reprint of the content. They call or email you in the next two or three business days when the material is ready, and you can pick it up with your receipt.

The main problem in my situation occurred when I gave my Visa card to the cashier. Without even looking at the signature, she requested a piece of ID to complete it. I declined – saying that it shouldn’t be necessary to run my card. “We need it,” she said. “To verify your identity.”

“Well, your merchant agreement says that I shouldn’t need to show ID. I’m not trying to be difficult, I’d just rather not show you anything.”

“We can’t put this through then. You can speak to my manager if you’d like.”

Apparently speaking to the manager involved talking to the head cashier, who without even hearing the details of the transaction, said that they wouldn’t accept my card without ID. I mentioned that I’d be calling merchant services later and paid for the material by debit – without giving any identification. (Never mind the fact that my student ID number, UW account and name on the textbook order form match my credit card. That would be too obvious.)

My conversation with TD Visa’s customer care line was much more productive. The customer service representative had to look up the details of the policy, and suggested that UW may be in the right – that they might want to check ID for all forms of payment. When informed that my debit transaction went through without hassle, though, he said that they’d be initiating an investigation with Retail Services and offered to increase my credit limit. He also agreed that it was not acceptable to have this policy to prevent people from using their parents’ cards.

Sure, I could have easily shown the cashier some identification. Admittedly, that would have been the simplest way to deal with the situation. I just don’t believe in giving my driver’s license number, home address and other personal information to merely anyone who asks for it, and it shouldn’t have been necessary. I’d actually prefer if they’d have called Visa and validate my identity – as a client with a spotless payment history and several other services with TD, the answer would have been “yes, take this card.”

I shouldn’t have to keep the VISA merchant guidelines around in my bag at all times, but with this incident I’m slightly disappointed that UW isn’t following their end of the bargain.

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