Wal-Mart And First Data Offer Everyday Triple Billing For April Fools

from the April-Fools? dept

Ooops. It turns out that First Data screwed up big time last week and pulled something of an April Fool’s joke on nearly a million Wal-Mart shoppers: they charged them all either double or triple their final bills if they used either Visa or Mastercard on Wednesday. While the charges occurred Wednesday, they didn’t show up on customer accounts until Thursday – April Fool’s day. Very little explanation is given for the mistake other than that it was caused by some mysterious “hardware failure” and that it only affected Wal-Mart stores. Anyone know what kind of hardware failure could possibly double or triple bill nearly a million people? The charges have been reversed, though some may not see the refund until later this week. Still, the fact that this impacted so many people and wasn’t caught and stopped quickly should make people wonder what happened.

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Comments on “Wal-Mart And First Data Offer Everyday Triple Billing For April Fools”

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Michael Kohne says:

Card handling

I’ve done a little with small scale credit card systems (nothing like what Wal-Mart does, but some of the concepts are the same). There are two parts to any transaction: authorization (when you swipe the card) and then settlement (on a regular basis). What happens is that when you swipe, the shop asks the network for authorization. But the merchant doesn’t get paid unless they also settle that transaction later on.

This failure kind of sounds like a multiple-settle situation. At a guess I’d say that the primary system that Wal-Mart was pushing settle data into failed, and Wal-Mart’s system started talking to the backup. Wal-Mart’s system then re-did the settle (becuase the first one failed). Somehow both settlements then ended up in the processor’s database (that’s what obviously shouldn’t have happened).

Clearly I don’t know for sure, and this is all a big fat guess (as I have nothing to do with large-scale credit card transactions like this), but hey, it’s a theory anyway.

Sean says:

Re: Card handling

I also work with POS systems on a regular basis for a network provider. What I can say is the failure sounds like what is described above. There could have been a failure on the systems on the First Bank side and (failre, and then replacement systems starting from transaction #1 from wed for example). I am sure it was fun for wal-mart execs seeing the morning numbers 2-3 times higher then forcasted.

Roberto Magalhaes says:

Re: Card handling

I am a credit card consultant. This problem is quite commmon in Brazil where I am from. All transactions, when received, are screened for several filters: valid card number, valid merchant number and so on. If the merchant accidentaly retransmits the transaction file, the credit card processor checks this file vs previous ones and detects identical transactions.
Whenever version updates are done, programmers must be careful in validating all subroutines. My best guess is that this step was overlooked. Here in Brazil I have seen this happen many times and invariably , upon investigation, one finds the missing duplicate detection routine to be off.
Major booboo for a large processor.

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

Im sure everyone’s heard of the infamous, take all the partial cent’s from everyone’s bank account and put it in my bank account fraud.

Seems to me that there have been a couple of double/triple billing problems recently… but I forget when/what the other was.

Anyway, my point is that a lot of money could be made by someone if they had access to that extra money for a couple of days……

Joe Baderderm says:

Re: No Subject Given

That was from Office Space via Superman III! You shouldn’t steal fractions of a cent from the children’s fund!

My guess is that someone was trying to earn extra miles on their card for the summer for a big trip. Or maybe somone was putting in a big bet on the Final Four. Heck, why not blame Bush or Kerry depending on your political views!

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