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Merchants cry foul over questionable credit card machine contracts

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(WTNH) — The rumor at Captain Grant’s Bed & Breakfast is that there are ghosts still roaming the mid-1700’s home. It is part of the allure that keeps a steady stream of customers coming through the doors. For as long as Carol Matsumoto has been in charge, those customers have been paying with credit cards.

Every time a credit card is swiped, a percentage is paid to the credit card companies. In the height of the summer rush in 2014, a salesman came unannounced and offered Matsumoto a chance to save money.

“We pay every time we swipe a credit card,” Matsumoto explained. “He said he could lower the payments if we used his machine.”

A short time later, Matsumoto says money was debited from her checking account, amounts much greater than anything she had agreed to.

“I called the bank because I didn’t recognize the company name,” said Matsumoto. She ended up closing her account.

The business that relied on customers being able to pay with credit cards was cash-only until an alternative payment system to reach them.

What Matsumoto quickly discovered was that the contract she signed had been sold to Lease Finance Group and Northern Leasing, two parts of a larger company with headquarters in New York and Illinois. Lease Finance Group claims that Matsumoto signed a non-cancellable contract that would charge her $5,100 for a machine that can be purchased online for $200. She complained to the Attorney General’s office and even filed a police report claiming fraud.

Her complaint is not the only one. Aross the state, Jack Emanuel ran J&J Computers in Brookfield. Similar to Matsumoto’s complaint, Emanuel says he agreed to a contract that would lower the fees he pays for a customer using credit cards. Instead, he was sent a contract that had his signature on it, with information from Lease Finance Group.

“I never signed that contract,” said Emanuel.

He too shut his bank account down to stop the direct debits for charges he never authorized.

“When a business is struggling and you lose the ability to accept credit cards, that puts the final nail in the coffin,” said Emanuel.

He closed his business until he was able to find a way to start accepting credit cards again. He continues to dispute the charges. In February, Northern Leasing sent him a letter saying they were beginning the legal process of collecting the money owed.

“This is a scam that has been going on for a couple of decades,” claimed New York Attorney Krishnan Chitur. He has filed numerous suits against companies related to Northern Leasing, all claiming the same thing: customers are being told one thing and receiving another.

“We have clients from Connecticut to California, Florida to Washington,” said Chittur. “The bulk of them are out of New York.”

When a client does not pay, Northern Leasing sues in New York Civil Court. There are so many cases, New York’s Civil Court has set aside two judges to only hear Northern Leasing lawsuits. In 2015 alone, the number of suits filed by Northern Leasing or Lease Finance Group is more than 515, more than 10 cases per day.

Attempts to reach a spokesman for Northern Leasing for a statement were unsuccessful.

Northern Leasing Special Projects Director Cortes Derussy provided signed copies of the leases of J&J Computers, but would not provide a statement or comment on the litany of complaints or the lawsuits filed. We attempted to reach someone at their New York office but were quickly asked to leave.

New York’s Attorney General reached a settlement with Northern Leasing in 2013 to repay $3.6 million to former customers across the country.

Northern Leasing “schemed to drain nearly $11 million from the bank accounts of small business customers in New York state and across the country,” according to a news release about the settlement.

The Federal Trade Commission has taken 559 complaints about “Lease Finance Group” since 2010, according to a Freedom of Information request.

The Connecticut Attorney General’s office has taken some complaints and is looking into the matter, although they would not confirm any formal investigation.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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