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I came pretty near this situation, but luckily I had an extra debit card (although I would've preferred to use my credit card).

I was at a vet to prepare my pet for a surgical procedure, and they usually don't charge until the services have been completed.

I told them that I could give them the card number as I had it memorised, but then I realised that I didn't know what the security code (the last three numbers on the back on most cards) were, and so I had to use another card.

But if I didn't have any of these things, what would've most likely happened? Like if I knew I had them, but it was somehow lost or stolen? And in the latter case, would I need proof that it was stolen?

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    If you gave them your name and address -- showed them your driver's license -- then they'd know where you live, and could pursue a debt against you. – RonJohn Jan 19 at 14:06
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    Most businesses would rather get paid than pursue legal action. So if you have the funds (or card with necessary funds or limit), just not physically on you, maybe they would le you run home to get them. But they also do not want to deal with 'send me a bill." So it would totally depend on the amount, the situation, their relationship with you, how legit they think you are, etc. – Damila Jan 19 at 16:00
  • I don't remember the last time I went to the vet, but the stack of paperwork that you are asked to sign at a human doctor usually includes an agreement to pay, which would be enforceable as a contract for a collection agency or in a court. – spuck Jan 19 at 16:02
  • Was this your first time at this practice, or have you been an ongoing customer? Their response is probably a function of familiarity and whether they know your mailing address and email address are not invalid because their mailers don't come back. – user662852 Jan 19 at 16:49
  • BTW a depressing thing, some restaurants make the wait staff pay (!!!) for run-offs! – Fattie Jan 19 at 17:00
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It doesn't matter if your form of payment was lost, stolen, declined, temporarily misplaced, forgotten at home, or borrowed temporarily by a family member; that is your problem not theirs. You requested services and they delivered on the expectation of payment upon completion. Communicate with the business's representative; whether it's the owner, manager, wait staff, or whatever.

It is up to you to make an earnest effort to pay this business for satisfactory services rendered especially if you'd like to do business with them in the future. When a business is presented with a no-pay client then it is at their discretion to judge whether you are sincere or if you're trying to scam them; aim for the former.

Humbly own up to the situation and ask them if they can somehow invoice/bill you and make every effort to instill confidence that your goal is to pay them promptly. Provide your name, address, phone number, driver's license, or whatever; not your social security number obviously. Set an anticipated payment date such as:

  • Would it be alright if I went to my bank/atm next door and pay you in cash?
  • Can I call my friend/relative to give you payment information?
  • My significant other is at home with my payment method, can they give that to you over the phone?
  • Would it be alright if I waited for person XYZ to show up with payment?

Society runs smoothly (most of the time) because there is a certain level of trust. Break this trust and things will quickly become inconvenient. Business will impose pay-before-services rules among other things.

Please read this other applicable situation: How should I handle a purchase when the credit-card reader is dead?

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The short answer is ... that depends.

When you say you "realize you have no way to pay", do you mean that you forgot to bring your credit card? Or that you don't have enough money to your name?

And what kind of service?

If it's a matter of, "Oops, I didn't bring enough cash" or "I forgot my credit card", and the service is to produce, modify, or repair some object that you would like to take home, it's usually not a big deal. You say, "Oops, I made a mistake. I've got to run home and get the money." And you leave the product there while you go home and get payment. Then you return, give them the money, pick up the product, and everyone is happy.

If it's the sort of service that by the time they ask for payment, there's no way that you could leave it behind, like a meal at a restaurant, or a haircut, then things are more complicated. If it's a small business and you've done business with them before and are on good terms, you could explain your mistake and say you'll run home to get payment. If they're willing to trust you, no problem.

Auto mechanics and repair places where you leave the item to be repaired at their shop have what's called a "mechanic's lien": they don't have to give you your item back until you pay them. If you take your car for a $40 oil change and then tell them you don't have the money, fine. They keep your car until you come up with the $40. Odds are your car is worth more than $40 (well, I've had cars that weren't ...), so they can be pretty confidant you'll come back.

Once my wife and I ate at a restaurant and I expected to pay with a credit card, but when the time came to pay they said that they only accepted cash. This is pretty unusual these days so I didn't think to ask. But as my wife and I were both there, I said, How about I run out to an ATM and get some cash and my wife will stay here so you know we're not skipping out on you? It was annoying, probably for them as well as me, but not unsolvable.

I've had a couple of times at doctor's office where they've wanted payment and I hadn't brought any money, and they accepted "send me a bill".

Sometimes businesses will ask you to leave your driver's license behind while you get the money. They figure you need your drivers license, replacing the drivers license is probably more trouble than paying, and if you try to skip out anyway, they at least have your name and address.

I've read in older books of people decades ago being asked to leave their coat or something of value like that. I don't know if that's done any more. Maybe it's not even legal.

Beyond that ... Think about it from the store's point of view. What are their choices? They can yell and scream at you, but of itself that's not going to solve anything. If, as I mentioned at the beginning, if they can prevent you from taking the product or service with you when you leave, then they can just hold on to it until you come back with payment. If you were trying to pull a scam, you won't profit from it. Maybe you can make them waste time fixing your toaster or baking your cake or whatever and then never get paid for your time, if your goal is just to harass the business owner, but you can't profit from it. Otherwise, well, they can't keep you a prisoner in the store forever. So really all they can do is hope that you'll pay them, or that they can sue you and get their money.

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  • By not realising that I don't have a way to pay, I mean that I am confident that I have all my payment methods, but when I check my wallet, I notice that the card I want to use is not there. – HeavenlyHarmony Jan 20 at 10:36
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When you can not pay for services rendered at the time and place of business, then one procedure which is always available is to write down your name and address and send you an invoice via mail. If you don't pay it on time they send you a dunning and then a collection agency. Monitoring outstanding invoices is really inconvenient for any business which isn't used to operate like that, but it's a possible last resort option if a customer can't pay on location.

When you can't (or refuse to) provide any official ID to confirm your identity, then some businesses might call the police and ask them to arrest you for theft of services. That way they can leave it to the police to determine your identity.

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There's no formal specific procedure. This happens at restaurants for example all the time - idiots run off without paying.

In your specific example, what would happen is this: Vet would firmly tell you "Look, could you please come back with the payment ASAP."

If (for some ridiculous reason) you just "ran off" and never paid it, the fact is, there's almost nothing Vet could do, it would be their loss.

In the example you'd feel really, really silly when you run in to the Vet at the supermarket and such.

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    "there's almost nothing Vet could do, it would be their loss" Depends. They could file a case at the Small Claims court. It depends, however, if the amount was $20 or $2000. – glglgl Jan 19 at 13:33
  • Well, in theory they could use the "small claims court" if their state / jurisdiction has one. In theory, they could hire an attorney and sue. In theory they could seat the debt with a collection agency. The sentence "the fact is, there's almost nothing Vet could do, it would be their loss" - is correct, unfortunately for the vet. – Fattie Jan 19 at 14:04
  • Companies bill for service all the time. Thus, your answer is... weak. – RonJohn Jan 19 at 15:57
  • Could they hold onto the dog, and then tack on a boarding fee if the payment is not made that day? – Damila Jan 19 at 16:03
  • howdy Ron! Did you read the question? It's about retail situations, where, you get a service and traditionally then pay - such as at a restaurant or vets. (Aside, but not in Australia, where I believe you have tyo pay first before getting drinks/food!) When a restaurant has a runner, "what happens next" has never been "companies bill for service". – Fattie Jan 19 at 16:10

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