The Red Box vending machine lets you rent a movie for just $1. You slide a credit card, it gives you a DVD and you can return it to any of thousands of Red Box vending machines all over the country. So that's just what Peter Cortopassi did, or so he thought.
"The place it got confusing is both boxes are red and both of them say a buck for a rental," says Cortopassi.
Cortopassi rented three movies from a red kiosk inside Safeway and returned them on time the next day to a red kiosk outside of 7-Eleven. The red boxes looked identical, offered the same deal, but Cortopassi didn't know they are actually owned by separate companies -- one is DVD Play the other is Red Box.
"What I found out later is that I returned the wrong company's DVD into the wrong vending machine," says Cortopassi.
The machines don't provide receipts for return, so he had no idea anything was wrong.
"There was no red flag saying, 'hey where's our disc?' and it also didn't give me a warning to say this isn't our inventory," says Cortopassi.
Days later, he was socked with late fees -- a $1 a day for failure to return the movies. The fees kept racking up too until he was charged the maximum of $25 for each of the three DVDs.
Instead of $3 for three movies, Cortopassi was now on the hook for $75 for movies he didn't even get to keep. He says the two vending machines are so similar, other consumers are bound to be confused too.
They are very hard to tell apart. Both boxes are red, both charge $1, both use a similar touch screen selection system.
"I could not tell the difference. They seem like they were the exact same company," says Cortopassi.
So he contacted 7 On Your Side and it turns out, he wasn't the only one to confuse the two boxes. A woman in Napa wrote to 7 On Your Side saying she too returned a movie into the wrong red box and also was socked with a late fee.
7 On Your Side contacted DVD Play and Red Box and both companies said the similarity in their boxes was totally inadvertent. Both companies also said the kiosks are supposed to accept only their company's own DVDs. However, they acknowledged there have been mix-ups in the past.
So what about Cortopassi?
"I talked to them, and they had indicated that this does happen all the time," says Cortopassi.
DVD Play agreed to refund half of his late fee. It said it will refund the rest of the money, if the movies are found and returned and Red Box agreed to rummage through its kiosks looking for them.
"If I'm lucky, the other vendor will send the DVD back to the other company," says Cortopassi.
Last we heard, Red Box had not yet located the three movies, but it promised to keep looking. Both companies urged consumers to check the company name on the actual DVD before returning it.
One final note: DVD Play is merging with Blockbuster Express and all of the $1 vending machines will soon be painted bright blue, so there should be less confusion.