A Cautionary Comcast Tale: Decimal Points Are Very Important

When a California retiree missed a decimal point and sent Comcast an online payment of $6,894 instead of $68.94, the massive overpayment didn’t raise any red flags in Comcast’s system. It didn’t cause a cascade of overdrafts in his bank account, either, since he had enough money to cover it. To bring the situation to Comcast’s attention, though, he had to enlist the help of a local newspaper and a television station.

Comcast representatives first promised that the customer would have his refund within five to seven days…then five to seven weeks. Shockingly, the man’s refund took only three weeks after media outlets became involved.

As it turns out, local Comcast offices can issue refunds up to $5,000, but any amount larger than that needs to come from the Comcast mothership in Philadelphia. “Our process and timelines for refunds by check are no different than other large companies,” a Comcast spokesman told the Contra Costa Times.

Missing decimal point leads to frustration for Pittsburg man (Thanks, Ely!)

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  1. georgi55 says:

    A Cautionary “Comcast” Tale?
    Yes they could have handled it better $7000 to them is change, but the title of the article should be “A Cautionary Online Payment” Tale.

    • trentblase says:

      More like “A Cautionary Direct Withdrawal Tale”… if this was a Credit Card overpayment, they could have easily reversed the charge. The problem is that he gave Comcast his bank account and routing number and then wanted a check back. This looks like all kinds of fraud, even if it is completely innocuous (can you say advance fee scam?)

      Maybe Comcast should be set up to ACH the money back into the exact same account it was taken from, but I imagine that’s a bit harder than a simple CC refund. It’s taken me a couple weeks to set up direct deposits like that in the past.

  2. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    If he would have known about the $5000 refund limit, maybe he could have taken $5000 now and left the $1,894 as credit on his bill… giving him 27 months of “Totally Comtastic” cable without a bill. (assuming no price increases by Comcrap for 27 months. yea, right.)

  3. bendee says:

    Now if Comcast accidentally credited my account with $1399 instead of the $13.99 earlier this year, I wonder what they would say if I told them it takes ‘five to seven weeks’ to process the refund?

    • tbax929 says:

      Of course not. That’s what is so infuriating when you’re waiting for a credit back. They can take the money instantly but need several weeks to refund it? Ridiculous.

      • Buckus says:

        Agreed. If they did that, I might be inclined to move the money out immediately, go to the bank and close the account, then tell Comcast “Sorry, 5-7 weeks to process a refund..”

    • Black Bellamy says:

      Think about what you wrote. If Comcast credited your account $1399 they wouldn’t need your permission or even to contact you. They would just un-credit your account at their pleasure. You wouldn’t get a chance to be snarky to them :(

  4. bender123 says:

    This is very standard…They said they were going to refund and they did. Is the big issue the time lag? Many of these companies need multiple accounting sign offs on large checks like this to prevent fraud.

    Look at the recent Koss case in Wisconsin to see what happens when companies trust one person to send out all the checks. Their lead finance person embezzelled many millions of dollars doing things like this with payment accounts.

    It is the guys fault for not checking his work before hitting in order…enter the amount, yes, submit, confirm payment. Anybody that has used online payment knows there are about three different times the systems ask you to confirm your payment.

    • tbax929 says:

      Yes, the issue is the time lag. Yes, he made a mistake when he entered his payment. To me, I think what’s most telling is that he got the refund much faster once he got the media involved. We as consumers shouldn’t need to do that in order to “force” a company to do the right thing.

      We all make mistakes. As someone posted above, do you think Comcast would have afforded him the same courtesy had his mistake been an underpayment? I doubt they would have given him five to seven weeks to pay them more money.

      • Bibliovore says:

        Further, it should have been pretty obvious to Comcast what went wrong, from his bill total and his submitted payment amount and the fact that their records presumably clearly showed they’d received the 100-times-too-high payment.

        Comcast had $6,825.06 of his money for at least a month (per the article, he contacted the media a week after he’d contacted Comcast about the overpayment, which then took another three weeks to receive; unknown how long it was before he noticed the overpayment himself), and had suggested they might keep it for up to another month (possibly more, as they’d already multiplied their initial refund timeline by seven). While a month or two’s interest on that isn’t much compared to the amount itself, it shouldn’t have been Comcast’s.

      • crazedhare says:

        I don’t know. Frankly, it sounds to me like his involvement of the media was bullying here. The article says that once he got the realistic 5-7 weeks time frame, he went right to the media. No executive customer service, no status checks, nothing. He went from 2 phone calls to napalm, and I think people who act like that make it harder for the rest of us to get decent customer service. Given that I think it is eminently reasonable that a refund of that size would have to come from home office, I actually think the consumer here comes off like a bully and a jerk. But then I don’t share the hate for Comcast that gets Consumerist so frothing at the mouth, which I see as a bias that really motivates coverage of Comcast-related issues.

  5. Julia789 says:

    Most large companies take 4-8 weeks to process a payment or refund. The request has to go in triplicate to local, then regional, then national offices for approval, before it’s even sent to the accounting division that handles issuing the actual check. At each stop (local, regional, national) it has to be signed off on by division heads, and many handle these signatures only in weekly meetings. Then it’s sent interoffice to the next division.

    There is nothing shady about it, it just takes time.

    • lockdog says:

      Sure, under normal circumstance that is the policy. But someone somewhere along the line should have realized this was pretty abnormal. (especially once the TV stations were involved). A few phone calls up the chain (or down from an executive office) could definitely have gotten all of the same required signatures a whole lot faster. Even my small company has plans for authorizing, cutting and endorsing checks in an emergency, all approved by our auditors. If I had $7,000 of my customer’s money and wasn’t supposed to I can guarantee they wouldn’t have to wait the two weeks it would normally take for me to have a check cut.

      • Julia789 says:

        We have an emergency procedure, they implemented it a couple years ago for a payment that was royally was screwed up. We got the replacement check in 2 weeks instead of 4-8 LOL. :-)

        They made phone calls, explained it was very important, and sent the paperwork overnight mail instead of interoffice delivery for signatures. I don’t think they could get it done in less than 2 weeks, even if they tried. There is just too much red tape to trip over and no one can coordinate with each other. It takes at least four days of overnights around, and someone whose signature is required is always away on business for a couple of days. It’s rather amusing.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        You work for a small company. I once worked for the largest private credit card issuer. My boss lost a receipt for parking on his company/department charge card. It was a grand total of UNDER $20. It took over two months for the bank to pay itself and required at least 4 forms to allow payment for a non-documented expense. And again, this was the company paying itself.

    • Jubes says:

      Exactly, it’s not as fast as people would think it is. Credit card payments are usually faster, but there are steps that both sides need to take even just on accounting records alone.

      A smaller, may local company, could probably get the refund out faster, but that’s probably because it doesn’t have to go through as many hoops as a large national company.

      BTW, you totally stole my screen name, I’m thinking I should change mine to Julia 123 :P

    • KyBash says:

      Handling sign-offs only in weekly meetings show blatant disregard for customer problems. They are not operating in a vacuum where corporate convenience overrides all other concerns.

      They cheaped out on software by not having a balance vs. payment routine.
      They cheaped out on admin costs by not having a fast-track for customer concerns over a certain dollar amount.

    • coren says:

      That may be true, but why is it suddenly faster when they’re getting bad press? It seems like it’s only that slow because they can get away with being that slow.

  6. Marlin says:

    Why not issue one refund for $3400 and then next month/pay period do another $3400?

    That way its less than $5000 and he gets his money back.

    • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

      Stop making sense.

      I’m sure Comcast has a reason why they couldn’t do that.

      • LadyTL says:

        Because then they would have actually of had to give him the money. Of course they still did in the end but they were hoping they wouldn’t.

    • Dover says:

      If Comcast had decent customer service, that’s what they would have done and we wouldn’t be hearing about it.

      • crazedhare says:

        No, then we’d be hearing “Comcast steals mans money by refusing to correct his error in less than two months”. It would be SCANDAL that they wanted to split it up onto two bills.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Because it’s a giant bureaucracy and lower level customer support probably has no power to do much of anything. It’s also in their best interest not to escalate and to get customers off the phone as quickly as possible.

  7. humphrmi says:

    On one hand, I agree with Comcast in that everyone else also follows and artificially slow refund process, so that they can hold on to money that doesn’t belong to them as long as possible.

    On the other hand, if consumers could treat companies the same way they treat us, I’d have a great interest-bearing float fund every month – imagine telling Comcast “It’ll take 4-7 weeks for me to process each monthly payment demand”.

  8. HungryGal says:

    I accidentally double paid my National Grid gas bill earlier this year. They didn’t contact me to tell me I overpaid nor offer me a refund. It was ‘only’ $91 so I just let it stay….

    A former roommate of mine accidentally sent her car payment to Comcast using online billpay… they didn’t contact her either. She had to call them to get a refund check.

    Are those stories Consumerist worthy?

  9. HungryGal says:

    I suppose an alternate comment would be-

    There is no way to ‘stop payment’ or request a ‘chargeback’ with online billpay? Is this an unacknowledged negative to using a bank’s online billpay system?

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I imagine it depends on the system.

      I had a similar problem with our gas company. I was paying online (through my bank) and accidentally paid $2,500 instead of $250. As soon as I clicked “confirm” I knew what I did. I called my bank and they canceled the transaction immediately.

    • sufreak says:

      Any system is faulty if you aren’t paying attention

  10. dolemite says:

    I’m not sure what the problem is…by current Comcast rates, he simply paid for 3 months in advance.

  11. osiris73 says:

    I wish I had an extra $6,894 that I wouldn’t immediately notice was missing. Then again, I notice when my 8 year old swipes my loose change off the table.

  12. minorthr says:

    I had a similar thing happen with sprint. Payment went through as $8600 instead of $86.00. I called them immediately and Sprint said there was nothing they could do my bank had to handle it. Called my bank and put a stop payment in. Sprint tired on 4 separate occasions to put the ACH through to my bank and the bank kept sending it back to them until they gave up.

  13. selkie says:

    Directv apparently won’t accept online payments of more than $500 for subscription services. I actually had a problem with that this summer when I tried to give them $600 to prepay for services and the online payment was bounced back to me by DTV. (Husband has a nine month contract paid over 12 months, something common in education, but then they lump sum his summer pay in May to be able to close the books out at the end of the fiscal year, and I’d just rather pay summer bills early and have it done with than earn that lovely $1.27 in checking account interest by letting the money set there.)

  14. jaya9581 says:

    I’d be really interested to find out how many people don’t have complaints about Comcast, or at least think they are the lesser of multiple evils.

    I’ve never really had THAT bad a time with them. I’ve certainly had way worse experiences with other cable/satellite/internet providers.

  15. TasteyCat says:

    He messed up. Not seeing how this is Comcast’s fault.

    I always used to quote customers a time of 4-6 weeks, knowing full well it would take less than that but wanting to cover myself just in case. I don’t see a problem with 3 weeks for a refund, particularly on such a large amount.