Credit cards overcharged at parking garage | AspenTimes.com

Credit cards overcharged at parking garage

Abigail Eagye

It was business as usual when Steve Pope parked at the Rio Grande Parking Garage and paid with his credit card – until he got the bills.Pope, the general manager of Colorado Mountain News Media (The Aspen Times’ parent company), parks at the garage when he’s in town for business. While reviewing his credit card bills, he found several discrepancies between his garage receipts and the amount billed on the cards.An investigation, the city and the automated payment machine’s vendor cited, concluded that a computer error was at fault, but Pope isn’t convinced.”I just don’t buy that it’s a computer glitch,” he said. “I suspect it was either the attendant or someone in the chain of monetary transactions after that.”Pope reported the discrepancies to the police after finding three errors between March and July. In March, he was given a receipt for $5, but the bill read $15. In early July, a receipt read $3.75, but again, $15 was on the bill. In the most egregious case, his receipt showed $5, but he was actually billed for $80.In each case where an error occurred, Pope paid via the parking attendant, not the machine. He said he has also paid at the machine but has seen no errors in those cases.”It just doesn’t make sense that it only happened with the attendant and not the automated payment,” he said.In a report to Assistant City Manager Randy Ready, Parking Operations Manager Blake Fitch stated that an investigation by the automated machine’s vendor, Parkeon, determined “that there has not been any type of external manipulation of data by any operator, attendant, technician or patron.”When someone pays with a credit card, the transaction is stored on a server until the end of the day, when all transactions “are batched and processed,” Fitch wrote. In his report, he stated that Parkeon found the problem happened when the transactions were actually posted, not when the cards were swiped. Parkeon’s headquarters are in France, and the company has automated parking payment machines in Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the United States.Aspen’s parking department has also performed its own investigation of all transactions for July, August and September, manually reviewing all transactions, Ready said.During that review, officials found the two July errors on Pope’s card (but not the one in March) and two other discrepancies on two different people’s cards. Those overcharges have been reversed, Ready said. In both of the latter cases, the amount on the receipt was doubled on the credit card, but in Pope’s cases, the amounts were multiplied by much more. “What’s very puzzling for both the finance staff and the vendor is that it’s not been consistent,” he said.Ready said the city is still trying to pinpoint exactly how the computers erred, but he was not surprised the investigations suggested computer error.”Anybody that knows computers better than I will assure you that computers do make mistakes,” Ready said. Pope, however, remained suspicious after learning about the city’s explanation.”Actually, I’m really concerned, and to be honest, I’m not sure that I buy the answer,” he said. “It just doesn’t stack up.”Pope, who parks in the garage once or twice a month, cited the fact that the only discrepancies occurred when he paid with the attendant, and that the mistakes were so far apart. He also noted that the mistakes stopped after he reported them to the police, and he said “there’s no logical reason” a computer would make those mistakes.When Ready first learned of the mistakes and passed the information on to the parking department for investigation, the only details he had were copies of Pope’s receipts and credit card statements. Ready was not available to respond to Pope’s specific concerns after releasing the parking department’s report or to comment on whether the city will continue to pursue the idea that someone might be tampering with payments, in spite of Parkeon’s conclusion that that was not the case. But earlier, he was confident the parking department’s and vendor’s explanations were valid and that the city’s current efforts should rectify the problem. The manual review of transactions has now “become part of the daily audit procedure,” he said, and the city is also in the process of looking at other software for the garage.”It should not happen again, and if it does, it will be caught and immediately corrected,” he said.Nonetheless, Ready said he wouldn’t discourage people from reviewing their statements.”If anyone thinks they have a questionable charge, it should brought to the attention of any retailer, not just the city,” he said.Anyone who finds discrepancies between their parking garage receipts and credit card charges can contact Ready at 920-5083.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com

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