7 On Your Side

Woman accidentally spends $1,250 on $125 bill

Monday, November 16, 2009

Carole Hays gets her Internet, telephone and cable TV all through Comcast. She always pays her bill online because it is hassle free, except for this one time when a little tiny mistake caused a very big problem.

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"I typed in $125 and I typed in one, two, five, dot, zero, zero," she told 7 On Your Side. "And, I thought I put the decimal point in."

Hays thought she typed in $125. But, if she put in the decimal point, it went in the wrong place.

"When I hit 'click' to send the payment it popped up with saying 'Thank you for your payment of $1,250," she recalled. And, I said, 'Oh no no no no!'"

Hays says, at first it was scary watching $1,250 coming right out of her debit account. But, she figured no problem, this was a simple mistake.

"So, I'm thinking OK this is an easy fix. All I have to do is call Comcast and tell them what happened," she said.

So she did. But, Comcast said it had no way to reverse the payment. Comcast said Hays should call her bank to stop it. So, she did that. But, Chase bank said it could not stop the transaction either. They said she should go back to Comcast which in turn sent her back to the bank. Then -- you get the idea.

"Remember when you call Comcast you don't just get a person on the line," Hays said. "You've got to listen to the music. And, I'm just panicking the whole time."

She was panicking because this has serious ripple effects. The overpayment to Comcast was about to drain all the money from her debit account right when her home mortgage payment and a lot of other bills was due. All with auto pay, all of them were about to bounce.

"I'd already sent payments out for other bills. Everything was... This amount was going to be devastating to lose," she recalled.

Hays got so desperate she tried canceling her debit card and filing a debit card claim for return of funds. But, the transaction was in motion and like a speeding train, nobody could stop it. The money came out of her account, her house payment was late and her credit rating took a hit, all because of one dot.

"Just a click of a button that snowballed into all kinds of just disaster for me. This was a simple mistake and anybody could make it," she recalled. "And, if you make it, everybody should know it's not an easy fix. Your whole life can be turned upside down in a matter of just a click."

She still did not have her money back, so Hays called 7 On Your Side who found out that once you hit send the money goes into a kind of cyber-limbo. Comcast says it could not refund her money until it actually received payment, which was still pending at the bank. Chase said the way the debit system works, it cannot stop any pending transaction.

However, right after 7 On Your Side contacted the two companies, things did happen faster.

"No one could do anything, but as soon as 7 On Your Side got involved, the very next day the money was in my account," Hays said. "And, to me, that's amazing."

Comcast still says the bank should have been able to reverse the transaction and the bank still says Comcast should have been able to cancel it from the get-go. The bottom line is to make sure you type your payment amount correctly before you hit send.

Hopefully with millions of companies encouraging millions of online payments, they will also create a mechanism to correct these inevitable errors.

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