Connecticut Attorney General Questions Macy’s Debit Card Claims

Written by Evan Schuman
January 10th, 2009

The Connecticut Attorney General has weighed in on the increasingly mysterious debit card overbilling problems at Macy’s, questioning a key element of the chain’s POS defense and exploring whether compensation can be legally forced.

But the crime fighter’s statement only deepened the mystery around an incident that is expanding daily, in terms of both potential scope and the number of factual contradictions that permeate the case.

The probe involves an incident with some 8,000 customers who were double and triple billed when using their debit cards at Macy’s just before Christmas 2008. Macy’s officials have—on the record—been infuriatingly vague about how the overbillings happened and even about how many consumers were impacted. The 8,000 figure and an incomplete explanation of the cause—the repeat-billings being somehow triggered by a slowdown at the division’s credit card processor—were only provided by a Macy’s official if we shielded the official’s identity.

But the mystery only deepened on Friday (Jan. 9) when Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced his probe. Macy’s has said the incident happened on December 20 from 1-2:45 PM (the company wouldn’t specify the time zone, oddly enough) and that it was corrected at that time. Blumenthal said an unspecified number of Connecticut consumers reported multiple billings “on or around Christmas Eve.” It’s not clear if “around Christmas Eve” would have included the afternoon of December 20.

The compensation comment in the AG’s statement is also confusing. Does the AG’s office have reason to believe that Macy’s is not compensating impacted consumers? Macy’s has said from the beginning that it was arranging for full compensation, through various banks.

Geographic Confusion

But the bigger point of confusion is the core of Blumenthal’s concern. “I am disturbed by evidence of this billing blunder in Connecticut after Macy’s claimed it was confined to the Mid-West and Southeast,” he said, in a statement.

The only problem is that it’s quite unclear whether that was ever Macy’s official position. The original official statement from Macy’s said the debit card glitch happened “at stores in Macy’s Central and East divisions.” Macy’s East division includes all of Connecticut.

But in commenting on the statement, multiple spokespeople for Macy’s told various news organizations that it was limited to the Southeast and Midwest, a description that differed from the official statement.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that some Macy’s spokespeople on Friday seem to accept the AG’s statement that Connecticut was excluded. For example, one spokesperson, Elian Kazan, told a Connecticut daily newspaper called The Day that “Macy’s has acknowledged that some consumers were accidently doubled-billed on check cards in the Midwest and Southeast, but found the problem was limited to those areas. Kazan said Connecticut’s complaints appear to involve a ‘small number of people’ and have nothing to do with the problems in the Midwest and Southeast, which occurred on a particular day for a particular amount of time. ‘It’s a completely different issue,’ she said.”

Where to start? The original Macy’s statement included Connecticut but now Macy’s seems to have forgotten it said that. But the retailer’s latest position is that multiple Connecticut consumers went into a Macy’s around the same time as this admitted debit card glitch and suffered the identical multiple billings. And, without explanation, Macy’s dismisses the problem as “a completely different issue”? Doesn’t that require Macy’s to understand exactly what both the Connecticut issue and the original issue were?

Let’s accept this new position at face value. So Macy’s is saying that it has multiple independent glitches going on, both of which cause the company to reach into its customers’ bank accounts and take two or three times as much money as it was supposed to, potentially causing bounced check problems?

If Macy’s had come out initially with a detailed explanation of the nature of the problem and how it caused multiple withdrawals, it would certainly have advanced the company’s goal of getting customers to put this matter behind them. But when even law enforcement starts to say, “This simply isn’t adding up,” it might be time for Macy’s to get a lot more specific. If not, isn’t there good reason for customers to want to keep all of their plastic far away from any Macy’s POS, online or in-store?


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