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Thousands of local businesses could be eligible to claim a portion of a $7 billion settlement offered by Visa and MasterCard, though they may not be aware of it.

K.B. Forbes, from Consejo de Latinos Unidos (the Council of United Latinos), is working to spread news of the settlement to small business owners around the region. Any business that accepted Visa or MasterCard credit or debit cards for payment between January 1, 2004 and November 28, 2012, is eligible for a refund of a portion of their processing charges, or “swipe fees,” which plaintiffs in several lawsuits claimed had been raised arbitrarily and without proper notice to vendors.

“We want to make sure that San Diego businesses know that there are resources available, that they can get reimbursed for swipe fees that they’ve paid,” Forbes said at a press conference this morning on the front patio of the Tacos El Paisa restaurant in Sherman Heights.

The card issuers are being required as part of the settlement to send out notifications to potential claimants and to run a five-week ad campaign to raise awareness, but Forbes says the message isn’t getting through to small business owners, especially Spanish speakers.

“We are setting up a website to help businesses file a claim that is paperless, hassle free, and [business owners] don’t have to do anything,” Forbes continued. He displayed a sign advertising two websites – www.VisaMCclaim.com and www.ayudatarjetas.com, where potential settlement participants are encouraged to work with Lexco Capital Partners to process their refund requests in exchange for 25% of whatever they may recover, a number Forbes called “so low it’s unheard of in the business.”

The settlement numbers could add up – according to Guillermo De Santiago, who owns two Tacos El Paisa restaurants, he processes up to $40,000 in credit card transactions per month – at a swipe fee rate of up to 3%, he estimates that he could have paid over $100,000 in fees during the eight year span the settlement covers.

What percentage of the fees paid he and others will get back, though, depends on how many merchants ultimately file for refunds - about $6 billion out of the total settlement fund will be distributed in the form of refunds. Forbes said that the fund will be closed out in September, and that parties wishing to file a claim, with or without the support of the Consejo or Lexco, should have claims in by August.

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