New law bans hidden fees at money-exchange shops

Many people have been caught off-guard by the fees when exchanging dollars for pesos

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Whether you cross the border frequently or now and again, you may have been paying a fee without knowing when you exchanged dollars for pesos.

Starting July 1, though, those fees should be going away. 

In San Ysidro, there are about a couple of dozen money-exchange shops. All of them compete to get your business. NBC 7 Responds found out that word of the new law is not getting to all of these companies that charge extra fees. 

Adan Bojorquez, who is a regular border crosser, said he looks for shops that don’t charge commission fees and offer better exchange rates. He said he's seen others go to places that advertise more pesos for your dollars but believes that it’s a hook to draw more customers who pay a commission that few even notice.

Lorena Griego from Las Vegas said she knows exactly what Bojorquez means, since she has experienced it herself.

“I go, 'Wait a minute: That doesn’t equal what that is,' and she said, 'Oh, no, we charge,' and I was, 'What do you mean you charge?' " Griego said.

Griego recently went to Cambiomax because of the rate it advertised but was surprised by an 11% fee that showed up on her receipt.

“So, I go, 'You know what? I don't have any money from you yet. We haven't completed the transaction. I want my money back,' and she's like, 'Oh, I can't do that. It's already in the system,' ” Griego told NBC 7. 

After arguing for several minutes with the employee, Griego finally decided to call the police.

“I felt robbed —I felt like she just robbed me in my face,” Griego said. “I was so upset. I just felt frustrated.” 

Griego is not alone. NBC 7 Responds found out that the San Diego police have been called to that particular block at least six times this year for disputes over the fees. SDPD said there’s nothing they can do since it’s a civil matter.

In Griego’s case, the police call for service shows the cashier told the officer she tells customers about the fee if they ask. NBC 7 Responds visited the money-exchange shop, where a worker said she was not authorized to talk but would pass our message along so the owner would contact us. That never happened.  

NBC 7 saw a note on a window telling customers they charge a fee, but Griego explained that a sign on the floor with an arrow leads customers to a second window that does not have that same notice. 

“You go to where the teller is, so I went to the window where she was," Griego said. "I didn’t pick the window, she did. So, yeah, I think it’s very misleading. I don’t think it’s a fair business practice." 

That business practice will have to change July 1, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who told NBC 7 Responds that money-exchange shops are included in a new law that does away with hidden fees.

“It applies to all businesses in California, and it requires that the price advertised be the price you pay and everything that is a mandatory cost or fee be included in the advertised cost,” Bonta said.

Bonta was clear about the extra fees many pay when they cross the border.

“Even if it’s on a small sign, it needs to be in the price advertised," Bonta said.

NBC 7 Responds also reached out to the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, which oversees money-exchange stores, and was told" us in a statement: “SB 478 will impact California businesses' advertising practices in general, and the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation will monitor for potential impacts to our licensees and the financial services marketplace.”

“All those little surprises are things that we don’t account for," Griego said. "We’re not budgeting for that, so if I can see everything that I am paying, it will be a great advantage."

Bojorquez said he was happy to hear about the changes because the extra fees have surprised border crossers in San Ysidro for a very long time. 

Some of the money-exchange businesses may take a while to adjust their pricing in compliance with the new law, so make sure you ask about any additional fees before you give the teller any money. 

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