Alert
Close

Introducing AARP RealPad: The Wi-Fi Tablet That Makes It Easy to Share, Learn, Connect and Play. Learn more

Highlights

Open

10,000 Games Galore Sweepstakes from AARP

AARP Auto Buying Program

Contests and
Sweeps

$10,000 Games Galore Sweepstakes

Sept. 3, 2014 - Oct. 14, 2014
Play AARP Games for a chance to win $10,000!
See official rules. 

Driver Safety

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

AARP Books

Visit the Money Section

Enjoy titles on retirement, Social Security, and becoming debt-free.

Jobs You Might Like

most popular
articles

Viewed

Nothing has been viewed

On Your Side

When Online Checks Disappear

The Complaint: Help! My Payment is Lost in Cyberspace!

Making a deposit at her bank last February, Danielle Sellers got a rude shock: $8,000 had vanished from her checking account. Stunned, she turned to the teller and demanded to know what had happened. The culprit was an online payment to her cell phone carrier, Sprint. Instead of $79.12, she had been debited $7,912.

See also: Could you become a fraud victim?

Sellers swears she double-checked the amount before clicking "Send," but Sprint wanted proof of the excessive payment and asked her to fax a bank statement. Days later, Sprint e-mailed her that it had closed the case. That would have been just fine — except the company hadn't refunded a penny.

Online banking is an Internet-age blessing when it works. But when things go wrong, it can be a curse. In Sellers's case, two things went wrong. The first, of course, was the missing decimal point. Typos happen, but they can be tricky to fix in online banking.

Most banks hire payment clearinghouses to process online transactions. These contractors typically deduct amounts from your account right away but don't credit the payee for as long as 10 days. During that time the payee cannot verify a payment; that's why Sprint requested a fax of Sellers's bank statement.

But the process dragged on, which is the second thing that went wrong. After a case stalls for a certain period, customer-service computers are programmed to spit out a "case closed" letter. That was when Sellers got in touch with On Your Side. By the time I called, the payment had hit Sprint's books, and the company quickly sent a refund.

The best prevention is to double-check the figures you enter. As a backstop, have your online bank e-mail you alerts for any amounts over $500. That way you'll learn of all big payments — even ones you didn't mean to make. If you discover an error, call your bank right away. Timing is crucial. Once a payment hits the clearinghouse, even the bank cannot undo it.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For.

Have a complaint about customer service? Write to Ron.

You may also like: 6 ways to avoid telemarketing fraud.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Life insurance: you are covered rain or shine

Exclusive annuities for members from AARP Lifetime Income Program from New York Life.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Homeowners Insurance
Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Official Sweepstakes Rules