Quick Take

  • PCI compliance is real, but also a way for an unscrupulous processor to gouge merchants with extra, hidden fees.
  • A Real Merchants Solutions Merchant Advocate can quickly and inexpensively help you remain compliant, and avoid unnecessary and bogus charges.

Read the full details below

If you’ve ever had a merchant account, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase PCI compliance and probably have a vague idea as to what it is all about. Chances are you either pay a monthly, quarterly or annual fee to be PCI compliant, or pay PCI non-compliance fees. Confusing as it sometimes can be, merchants should not overlook the importance of PCI compliance.

The PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), commonly referred to as just “PCI”, was designed to help ensure the safe handling of cardholder information by providing a framework for developing a robust payment card data security process — including prevention, detection and appropriate reaction to security incidents. In recent years, this standard has come under criticism because numerous “breaches”, or data leakage incidents have occurred with vendors who had already passed a PCI audit. Almost everyone is familiar withe Target breach from Christmas of 2013, but that was just one of many.

PCI Lock and KeyboardPCI was originally developed by the five major card companies (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, JCB and Discover) to develop just such a set of standards and a unified approach to prevent credit card fraud and combat other security vulnerabilities. Any merchants who processes, stores or transmits card data is required to be PCI compliant, from the lowliest barber shop, to the mightiest Big Box retailers. Merchants not in compliance can wind up paying expensive fees and fines, or even the loss of their ability to accept credit card payments from their customers.

The Importance of PCI Compliance for your Business

Noncompliance can essentially put any business out of business. PCI compliance is a serious subject and not at all optional. There is even an organization that take PCI Compliance as their mission, the PCI Security Standards Council, and their website provides detailed and valuable information worth reviewing if you have questions.

All that said, however, most merchants are just honest folks busy running their businesses, and it is easy to get lost in the smoke and fog of PCI compliance issues. There is also plenty of fraudulent activity surrounding this part of the industry. Taking advantage of the average merchant’s ignorance of their obligations and responsibilities,  it is not uncommon for busy business owners to be cold called by authoritative sounding scamsters who will tell them they are not in compliance, talk of the fearsome consequences that may befall them,  and walk them through a series of questions to ensure that they are compliant. The questionnaire is real, but too often, the caller asking the questions is not. At the end of the process, the cost to satisfy this unknown third party and receive their blessing can run into hundreds of dollars. Very often, that voice on the phone has absolutely nothing to do with the merchant’s processor.

Also watch out for processors that not only charge compliance fees, but who then turn around and charge non-compliance fees, all on the same statement. As an example, most processors will charge a monthly PCI compliance fee of $10 or so, which is not unreasonable. They typically send out an email after the account goes live with limited instructions on how to fill out an online survey to ensure compliance. If the merchant is too busy, or misses the email, typically within 60 to 90 days, in addition to the very reasonable $10 a month PCI fee, sharp merchants will begin to notice an item on their statement called “Non-Compliance”, which can be as high as $39.95 a month. A Merchant Advocate looking after your best interest will never let that happen.

Your merchant advocate can be helpful with all of these issues. PCI compliance is real, and there is a cost associated with it, but your Real Merchant Solutions Advocate can explain the importance of PCI, walk you through the process, and confirm your compliance. For most merchants the process is quick, simple, painless and inexpensive, but look to your agent to lead you through the maze. Never fall for that concerned and authoritative voice on the phone.

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Russell Halley

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