BOISE -- Some small business owners feel they've been ripped off while trying to offer a service we've all grown to expect -- accepting credit cards. They say they've been drastically overcharged for leasing equipment and can't get out of their contracts.
Around the country, business owners have reported problems with the same leasing company, LADCO Leasing. In California, an NBC affiliate reports a District Attorney recently sued and settled with the company, alleging agents misrepresented and made false promises to get businesses to sign on.
LOCAL OWNER CRIES FOUL
Boise business owner Ozzie Gripentrog claims the same thing happened to him. He bought two small businesses two years ago and met with a sales rep to get set up to process credit cards.
"I met with the rep and she went through all of the processes of all the fees and everything, and then she told me I would need to lease the machine. I wanted to buy it because I don't like leasing," Gripentrog, the owner of Parcel and Post, said. "She said, well gosh, these [machines] are like $3,000. You're better off if you just lease because the lease would be like 50 bucks a month, and it's a better deal."
Gripentrog signed an equipment contract with LADCO, a company associated with Elavon, which is owned by U.S. Bank. His contract is for four years, at around $50 a month, and he says he pays standard processing fees on top of that equipment cost.
That works out to around $2,500 for each machine over the course of a contract.
"$2,500 in our business is a lot of money," Gripentrog said.
AN EXPENSIVE LEASE
Now here's his frustration: The equipment, he says, isn't worth nearly that much. At the suggestion of the Better Business Bureau, KTVB checked online for the exact model Gripentrog is leasing. On eBay, we found the same equipment sold new for around $200. Gripentrog found the same thing.
"What I'm paying, is basically $2,500 for a machine that, really I can get all day long for 200 bucks, brand new," Gripentrog said.
Of course, that's how leases often work: You may pay more than the final worth, but Gripentrog feels he was mislead and felt pressure to sign. The Better Business Bureau's Dale Dixon says pushy sales tactics can be common in what has become a polluted industry trying anything to sell to a business.
"Some of the biggest problems that businesses will have is just all of the choices that are out there. They're going to be bombarded with some high pressure sales people who will say you've got to do this, we'll save you all of this," Dixon said.
Since signing, Gripentrog has sold one of his businesses, but he is still locked in and personally liable for the contract for a machine that's now essentially an expensive paper weight, plus one more he still uses at his other business.
COMPANIES NOT RESPONDING
"So far I'm in $2,500 for these machines, and I've got another $2,500 to go," Gripentrog said.
Gripentrog says he's had no luck contacting the companies and is still paying to avoid going to collections and ruining his credit. Because he feels he was mislead to sign, he's now suing in small claims court and waiting to see if he can eventually get out.
To ask more questions about Gripentrog's problem, KTVB called LADCO, Elavon and U.S. Bank. A spokesperson from the bank said they are fully committed to working with any customer who has an issue. She told me they'd start looking into this business owner's situation Thursday night. KTVB will continue to follow this story and update with any information.
The Better Business Bureau says with any company, these or others, you should ask the following questions before signing: How long is the contract? What are all of the costs and fees? How will you protect my customers' information?
"It's important to realize what it's going to cost you to slide a credit card. It's important to realize who's involved in that process and the number of steps that are involved in that process, and you also want to know the length of contract. All of those pieces will play into your decision," Dixon said.