Auto-payment mistake becomes headache for Pleasant Hill couple

Michael Finney Image
Friday, August 8, 2014
Auto-payment mistake becomes headache for couple
Paying bills using automatic payments every month can give people peace of mind, knowing they will never miss a deadline.

PLEASANT HILL, Calif. (KGO) -- Paying bills using automatic payments every month can give people peace of mind, knowing they will never miss a deadline. Or does it?

One couple found out there was a mistake in their auto-pay and their money was going automatically to the wrong place.

It's an example of why people shouldn't just set up auto-pay and forget it.

An East Bay couple realized they were accidentally using the wrong account number and they say their money simply vanished.

Larry Walter of Pleasant Hill drives off in the family's new SUV and his wife Sylvia sends off the car payments.

"I must have sent in, at least, 12 or 13 payments always on time, always for the same amount," said Sylvia Walter.

She set up automatic payments with her bank just to make sure. And it worked just fine until Capital One changed the account number on their car loan.

"I went in to the Internet and went in to the account and I changed the number," said Sylvia.

That's where a big problem began.

"I don't know where I got the number from I really don't," she said.

Sylvia says somehow, she typed an incorrect account number for that car.

"And I didn't have a martini for lunch either when I put the numbers in," she said.

So the automatic payments were still going out, but where they ended up, she had no idea.

Sylvia didn't even know anything was wrong until she received a past due notice from Capital One. It said she missed two auto-payments.

"And that's when I explained to them it was on automatic pay from the bank and they had to get it because it was out of my account," she said.

Her bank drafted a letter confirming payments were sent from the couple's checking account to Capital One. Still, Capital One kept telling Sylvia it never received the payments.

"I says, 'you mean to tell me my payments just vanished in thin air?' [The Capital One representative] goes, 'yeah that's exactly what I'm telling you,'" she said.

Soon, the Walters began getting collection notices and Sylvia kept calling Capital One.

"She was on the phone for six hours," said Larry.

"And, I couldn't seem to get anywhere with these people," she said.

"And, I was just ready to give the car back," said Larry.

7 On Your Side contacted Capital One and it wasn't long before the bank did track down that money. Capital One said it cannot discuss the case because of privacy rules, but the company released a statement that read:

"If a customer uses the wrong account number ...Capital One's payment research department conducts due diligence to locate the funds, which typically end up in an unidentified payments account. Once a customer provides bank statements showing that the funds were disbursed to us, we locate and redirect the funds to the correct account."

Which Capital One did.

"I really appreciate all that [7 On Your Side] did for me," said Sylvia.

Bottom line is, even though people set up automatic payments, they should check to see that those payments are correctly posted, and that they're being charged the correct amount.

One little mistake can snowball into a bigger problem.