16 Jan 2008

The day I was mistakenly charged $27,500 on my Amex

filed under: journal  :: customer service  :: modern life

Now I can chuckle at it but back then, it wasn't nice. One of the big brouhahas yesterday was that Dreamhost, a popular web site hosting service, made a pretty stupid billing error that caused their customers to be erroneously billed millions of dollars. (It doesn't help that the apology post has a picture of Homer Simpson at the top, though they have been roundly lambased for this on the interwebs.

One of the things that struck me whilst skimming through the comments by some irate customers was how many people were upset about being billed around the $200 range. Luckily at this point in time a $200 mistaken charge would not be too bad (though I'd be very upset about it of course and seek to get it reversed). There was a time in my life when $200 was a very, very big deal since I was earning about $220 after taxes per week, and paying $550 for rent. So I can sympathize very much. (And I still had a $29.95 per month Compuserve account in those days...)

It also reminded me of an incident that happened just a couple of years ago. I had ordered some merchandise from a certain web site that I was a fairly regular customer of. The total including shipping came to $275. The store mistakenly imputted the whopping number of $27,500. Yep, two extra zeroes. Since this was on my Amex card, which has no spending limit on it, the charge went through.

The store reversed the charge immediately when they realized the error, but the damage was done. What made the situation worse probably was that they were in the UK and I was in the US. My Amex was stopped immediately, which I only realized when I couldn't use the card a couple of days after the charge had occured since I was on the road at the time. I called the customer service number, and explained the situation to them. The first person I spoke to basically spoke to me as if I were a criminal, reading off a list of questions about my income, my profession, my family makeup, and on and on and on. I make a big mistake in such a situation and lost my temper at his intrusive questions. That didn't help.

A few days later, I composed myself and called Amex again. I explained the situation calmly (I wrote down a list of points before making the call), and this time the customer service person actually listened. She took off the hold on my account, and explained what paperwork I had to send in. She looked at whatever had been noted on my account by the interrogator-mode rep and corrected it. In other words, she treated me like a human being and a customer. She restored my faith in Amex as a company. (What I did not do, which I should have, was to get the name of the dude who treated me like crap and let Amex know about it. I regret it still.)

In any case, the lessons I learned were:

  • Don't forget to check your answering machine messages even if you're on the road (or, these days make sure you get account alerts and such to your cellphone or by email so you know immediately). Keep a vigilant eye on your credit card charges and bank account withdrawals.
  • If you start to feel upset at how a customer service rep is speaking to you, take a deep breath and ask for a supervisor. Or, hang up and try for another rep.
  • Be sure to give your gratitude to the really good and decent customer service people you encounter that smooth your way. They are angels who should get big raises and tons of positive karma.

Comments on this post:

While in Mexico I used my

While in Mexico I used my credit card at a restuarant...apparently the culprits copied the card and tried to buy to cars with it. Luckily my credit card company recognized it as fraud, didn't allow the charge and shut the card down immediately. Sort of a pain in the rear but could have been a heck of a lot worse!

uh, I think I would have a

uh, I think I would have a heart attack if that happpened to me! Yeah everyone makes mistakes, but there are the kinds of mistakes you can make, and the kinds that you can't. Lucky that you were able to get the thing fixed...and yeah, when ever I can't check my email, it always seems to be when I needed to most!

For the 27k charged to your

For the 27k charged to your Amex, the question is, did you get your frequent flier miles? I recall an episode of Seinfeld when George tried to buy plane tickets on this credit card, only to return them and reap the flyer miles!

No I didn't get any FF miles

No I didn't get any FF miles since the merchant corrected the charge quite quickly.

I heard about that Dreamhost

I heard about that Dreamhost overbilling (and to think my friend told me to switch to them HA!) But this $27,500 erroneous charge you got from a UK site? THAT'S INSANE! I'm sorry to hear about this, the worst part about overbilling is there's nothing you can really do to make it fair, and they never offer anything for your troubles.

I had Sprint bill me for 3 months of service once accidentally which was about $500 but that's worst I've had. That doesn't even come close to yours... geeez....

It happens to everybody, and

It happens to everybody, and in this case we must not feel criminels, it is not our mistake, but at the same time the company will defend its interest and we should understand it. Yes it's a lesson for you and you learned a lot. I copied the points for me, thanks.

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