Dec 072007

Channel 7 news from South Carolina recently assisted a woman whose online bill pay mistake cost her $8,000.

Kitty Forry has been paying her bills online for some time and is quite used to it. Earlier this month, however, she was attempting to pay an Alltel cell phone bill through her bank’s online billing program, and she made a crucial error. In trying to pay an $81.05 bill she left out the decimal point. Result? She paid over eight thousand dollars.

“Amanda at our bank called me and said ‘Do you know there’s an $8105 draft on your account?’,” said Forry. “I said ‘That’s impossible’.”

So Ms. Forry called Alltel, the cell phone company.

“How many single people do you know that have an $8000 cell phone bill?” asked Kitty as she described her conversation with Alltel. “I was hoping they would send the money back immediately or transfer it back to the bank account and they told me they couldn’t do that.”

“It was my mistake but it needed to be corrected.” said Forr.

Ms. Forry’s bank, the Sharonview Federal Credit Union, worked with Alltel to provide proof of the error. Amanda Butler, who works for the bank and helped with Ms. Forry’s problem, warns customers who do bank on-line to keep a close eye on transactions.

“Be very careful,” said Butler. “Go over whatever it is you are typing in before you hit the send button. Before you hit the confirm button look at your confirmation.”

But even with the bank’s help, Alltel was still delaying, and Ms. Forry was still $8,000 in the hole.

That’s when she contated Channel 7 news, which has a consumer assistance program called “On Your Side.” A few days later her refund arrived.

In an e-mail statement to Channel 7 news, Alltel spokesperson Andrew Moreau said, “Our internal process was a bit slow and we want to apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused Ms. Forry. We’re glad she now has her refund.”

The lesson? Be very careful when filling out your online bill payment form. It might just be common sense that no one would pay eight thousand dollars on an $81 bill, but computer systems run on cold hard logic, not common sense, and big companies can be very unresponsive, especially when it comes to refunding money. Protect yourself by preventing problems from occurring in the first place.

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