Does anyone remember the story of the computer programmer who had a bank account collect all the rounding problem values at a bank and it added up to a small fortune?
As a systems man myself, I've understood that the amassing of a fortune in the sort of tiny transactions that slip through the cracks within a big corporate must be the holy grail of white collar crime. A combination of volume and the mindless nature of the corporate beast makes it the perfect target. You would just need to be in the right position.
When I first called Vodacom about what is now established as a mystery invoice on my cellphone account, it was really out of curiosity. What has happened since has really got me a lot more than curious.
Here's the factual part of this story.
I received my usual monthly statement from Vodacom dated 3rd January 2011 totalling R1432.96 with the bottom line
However, on the 31st January my bank account was debited R1436.38 - an extra R3.42Your account will be debited with the full outstanding balance as reflected on this statement on 31/01/2011
TOTAL DUE 1,432.96
Curious as to why this had happened for the first time ever in the all the years I've been a contract client of Vodacom, and as calls to customer care are free, I made the call to ask about the discrepancy. This led to my thread on Vodacom calling back, or should that be Vodacom not calling back. My mind at that point was on the stupidity of making service delivery promises you didn't have to, let alone ones you're not sure you'll be able to keep.
What I didn't expect was that this mystery extra debit was going to become even more unresolvable than the lousy service delivery issue.
The first consultant I spoke to said the extra R3.42 was debited as a result of an invoice raised on 17th January 2011. Now as of the date of the debit order, I was totally unaware of this invoice and it had not been reflected in a statement to me either.
First question: How can you debit my bank account for an amount that you haven't provided me either an invoice or statement for? Surely the debit order should have collected the balance per the last issued statement only?
This question remains unanswered. Clearly it's a systems process issue and I probably should get out a contract and read the fine print to establish the actual legitimacy of this. What I suggest we take away from this for the time being is that funds can be extracted from your bank account by someone simply raising an invoice and crediting it somewhere in the financial system at Vodacom as surely as if they had hacked directly into your bank account.
Second question: What was this invoice for?
And now things get really interesting.
According to the invoice it is a charge-back for a credit I received in error in December 2010.
There have been three attempts to explain this charge-back and they start out confidently enough. The problem is once challenged to find this supposed credit (because it certainly doesn't reflect on the paperwork I have), no-one can find it.
They start out with "if you check your December statement, you will see that you were debited less than the amont owed on the end-of-month debit order."
Not true. Never happened yet that there has been any difference between the two. This is the first time.
"Well then there's a credit been passed on your account in December."
Honey, I'm sitting with the paperwork right in front of me and there's no credit anywhere. Which contract does this invoice relate to anyway? (I've got three on the same statement). Time passes as consultant does stuff...
"Wow! That is wierd. I wonder what that invoice is for then?"
Yeah - me too. Could be why I'm calling. And seeing as I'm paying I believe I'm entitled to know.
And the wheels fall off.
The second time I called (because despite reference number etc. Vodacom hadn't called) the consultant said something intelligent.
"I'm just in customer care. You should be talking to accounts"
Well, I thought I was talking to accounts after navigating the call queuing process of 082 111, so what number am I supposed to call.
Well, can you put me through to them.
And he promptly transfers me - to what I discovered after explaining the situation all over again was yet another customer care consultant.
I was rather peeved (to put it lightly) which led me to Greg, the supervisor.
Greg was apologetic about the poor service. He said he could give me an email address to write to if I wanted to take it further, but it wouldn't help any.
Greg was also fascinated by this mystery invoice. He seemed as eager as I was to know what it was for.
"Don't worry Sir. I will track this down and get back to you. I'd really like to know what it is for myself."
He never called back of course. But by now I'd come to expect that.
So yesterday I called "accounts". I don't know if it's a free call, but no matter - I've got lots of free minutes and in the end it didn't take accounts long to get rid of me anyway.
"Hello sir, how may I help?"
I have this mystery invoice that no-one can tell me what it's for.
"What's your number?"
I give number.
I give the reference number.
"Sir, could you please call me back in an hour?"
Sorry - what's the problem?
"We are offline at the moment and I can't help you."
Can't you call me back when you're back online?
"I don't know when that will be. You must call back later."
If you can't call me back, I'd rather publish my Vodacom experience so far, thanks.
I kid you not.
So much for the facts. I'll post my speculative concern about how white collar crime can take advantage of this rather slovenly outfit later.