Houstonians overcharged by ATM error

Woodforest Bank ATM at Toyota Center overcharged customers 50 cents

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - If you've ever played the board game Monopoly, you know what it means when there's an "error in the bank's favor." Local 2 consumer expert Amy Davis found those errors happening over and over to potentially thousands of people attending events at Houston's Toyota Center.

Ben Brinegar noticed it when he went to the Houston Rockets/San Antonio Spurs game on Dec. 10. The Rockets won, but Brinegar said every fan who stopped by one of the five Woodforest Bank ATMs inside the Toyota Center lost.

The ATMs told non-Woorforest customers they would be charged $2.50 to use the machines. But once customers like Brinegar agreed to the charge, the bank actually deducted $3 from their account instead.

"It was more about the principle," Brinegar explained. "If they're already getting $2.50 from me, if there's a thousand people withdrawing money from their ATMs in one night, then that's $2,500."

After the game, Brinegar called Woodforest to report the discrepancy.

"She didn't even ask which ATM it was, which made me think that they didn't care," Brinegar recalled of the Woodforest customer service representative that took his call.

Brinegar next went to Woodforest's Facebook page, where he posted a warning about the overcharge. That got him an email from a Woodforest employee who said he'd look into it. Brinegar said the employee took his information and said he would look into it, but never called back.

Twenty-two days later, when Davis stopped by the Toyota Center, she found the ATMs still overcharging every customer by 50 cents.

"Whether it's 50 cents or $50,000, the law pretty much says if you tell somebody here's what it's going to cost, here's what I'm going to do, you have to do what you say," explained consumer attorney Richard Alderman.

If a company doesn't do what it says it will, it is violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Once a business is notified that it's breaking this law and continues to, consumers are entitled to three times the damages. In this case, it would be a $1.50, but Alderman sayid that's not the point.

"The law doesn't give you a defense of, 'Oops! It was a mistake.' The law says consumers are allowed to rely on what you say and they can expect to pay what you tell them you will pay."

"We have audits and controls in place and this one just got missed by human error," Woodforest National Bank President Jay Dreibelbis said. "We appreciate you letting us know."

Dreibelbis said an employee made a programming error when he was servicing the Toyota Center ATMs on Nov. 9. When KPRC Local 2 called on Jan. 21, he said it was immediately corrected and the bank will issue refunds to every consumer who withdrew money from one of the machines between Nov. 9 and Jan. 21.

"Within hours from hearing from you, we were able to correct that," said Dreibelbis. "I hate to say this, but the money that we had to refund to those individuals, we feel very bad about that ... but it cost the organization significantly more to do the research and to make those adjustments."

"That's all I asked for -- just assurance that they were looking into it and doing the right thing," said Brinegar when Davis told him Woodforest corrected the fee.

There were 40 events during the time period Woodforest said its machines were overcharging by 50 cents. Brinegar said his refund showed up on his bank statement a few days ago.

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