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Online bill pay caution: Woman learns one big risk

Woman's simple error snowballs into late payments
Leslie Hoctor bill payer.JPG
Posted at 10:42 AM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-28 22:12:56-04

Most of us pay our bills online these days, especially during the pandemic, where we want to limit trips to the post office.

It's quick and convenient, but also very easy to make a costly mistake, as one woman learned.

Leslie Hoctor made a little error the other day, while online banking at her home in Cincinnati's Mt. Washington neighborhood. Only problem: it turned out not to be a little error.

"I was paying bills on my banking website and I made a pretty big 'fat finger' mistake," she said.

Like most of us with online banking, Hoctor's bank website lists all the companies she pays every month, from her cell phone to her satellite dish provider, to her gas and electric company, Duke Energy.

It works perfectly, until you accidentally pay the wrong one.

"I was just trying to pay the mortgage and I hit the wrong vendor from the banking website," Hoctor said. "And I've talked to several people since then and they said, 'Oh, I've done that or almost done that, too.'"

Hoctor accidentally switched her $1,000-plus mortgage payment with her $140 electric bill.

Panicked, she called Duke Energy and explained the error.

But getting it reversed was not so simple, even though she says the customer service agent was very sympathetic.

"They had to send it to their accounting department," she said. "Which could take six to eight weeks to get it to me, and I needed to allow another week for the postal service."

It could take more than two months to get the mortgage money she desperately needed. That meant she could face late fees, or even a blot on her credit.

"I don't see why it should take that long to get the money back," Hoctor said.

But web forums are filled with similar complaints of long delays for refunds. Some people claim they were unable to get the money back for many months.

How to protect yourself

So don't let this happen to you.

  • Slow down and double-check online bill paying.
  • Use a laptop, not your phone.
  • If you make a mistake, call the bank immediately and ask them to reverse the charge.

If you make this error more than once, consider paying your bills individually through each company's website. It will take longer, but there is no chance of paying the wrong vendor.

Good news: After we contacted Duke Energy, spokeswoman Sally Thelen told us they would expedite the refund and get Hoctor her money in the next few days.

Hoctor, meantime, says she is going to slow down in the future.

"It's kind of embarrassing," she said, "but it is easy to do."


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