By Joe Tash
Ed Wagner is a creature of habit when it comes to lunch.
The Encinitas man, who works as an investment manager at a Carmel Valley office, has gone to the drive-through of the same Taco Bell restaurant on Carmel Valley Road near Interstate 5 once or twice a week for the past three years. He always orders the same thing: two tostadas and a bean burrito, and the total always comes to $3.88.
But last week when he was reviewing his credit card statements, he noticed something amiss: on about half of the charges dating back to December, he was charged either $4.88 or $5.88. That’s when he got suspicious, and decided to conduct a test. He went to the drive-through on April 18, placed his usual order, and received a receipt for $3.88. But when he got back to his office and checked his account online, he found he had been charged $5.88.
In all, Wagner found 15 such overcharges of either $1 or $2 on his credit card statements. He contacted the restaurant chain, which investigated his complaint and then refunded the overcharges.
This newspaper also contacted Taco Bell officials. On Monday, company spokesman Rob Poetsch wrote in an email: “We take this isolated incident very seriously and immediately looked into it. After investigating, our franchisee resolved the matter with the customer, refunded his money and terminated one employee.”
While Wagner said he was happy with the company’s response to his complaint, he suspects other customers were also overcharged. Poetsch wrote that Wagner was the only customer to come forward.
“They’ve been great with me. But I think it’s not enough if they stop here,” Wagner said. “They do need to go back and find all the victims and give them their money back.”
Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas, who heads the agency’s Consumer Protection Unit, said she’s not sure if the incidents described by Wagner involve criminal fraud or inadvertent overcharging. But she suggested that Wagner contact her office.
“It’s something we would look into,” Darvas said. “We are interested in stuff like this. That’s how we keep the businesses honest.”
She said customers should closely check their receipts when using credit cards, and also double-check their credit card statements.
Wagner said he did not have to sign for the purchases since the amount was small, and did not receive separate credit card receipts to compare with the cash register receipts detailing his meal. Many businesses do provide both receipts to customers who make credit card purchases.
“The big lesson I take from this is this kind of thing probably happens to people a lot more than they think,” said Wagner. “I don’t think people really pay attention to a three- or four-dollar charge. I suspect a lot of errors or misconduct happens to people’s credit cards without them being aware. It makes me a lot more cautious about using my credit card, it makes me rethink whether to use credit cards at all.”
San Diego County residents who suspect they’ve been overcharged, or have questions about potential unfair business practices, can contact the San Diego County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 619-531-3507.