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    SEAN P. MURPHY | The Fine Print

    A few extra zeroes cause a big headache

    Arlington, MA - 7/19/2018 - Jackie Moquin-Vaudo inadventently paid Comcast $18,200 for a $182 monthly bill. For Sean Murphy consumer column. - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Business, Reporter: Sean Murphy, Topic: 23consumer, LOID: 8.4.2592923946.
    Barry Chin/Globe Staff
    Jackie Moquin-Vaudo inadvertently paid Comcast $18,200 for a $182 monthly bill.

    On July 3, Jackie Moquin-Vaudo flipped open her laptop, logged into her checking account, and paid two bills: $182.36 for cable TV and Internet, and $92.60 for her husband’s mobile phone.

    A sweet summer of fun hitting the beaches with family and friends beckoned.

    But instead of enjoying a well-deserved respite from her duties as a longtime school teacher, Moquin-Vaudo, 51, instead spent most of the next two weeks trying to extricate her family from a truly frightening financial crisis triggered by paying those two bills.

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    Somehow, instead of paying $182.36 and $92.60 via her online account, she paid $18,236 and $9,260. Whether she inadvertently typed in a couple of extra zeros — thus paying 100 times what she owed — or the software on her account went haywire, she doesn’t know. She uses the account almost daily and nothing like this had ever happened before.

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    But one thing was certain: Her account was suddenly overdrawn by $21,000.

    The bank covered her giant overdrafts because Moquin-Vaudo also had a savings account with slightly more than the amount she was overdrawn.

    But Moquin-Vaudo didn’t breathe any easier; she wanted to get the more than $27,000 in overpayments returned to her account.

    “It was a nightmare,” Moquin-Vaudo told me when we talked at her home in Arlington. “There were some nights when I don’t think I got an hour’s sleep.”

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    T-Mobile distinguished itself by returning the overpayment within 48 hours. All it took was a call to the mobile phone company.

    Comcast also distinguished itself, in a far different, far less commendable way. At first, a company representative told Moquin-Vaudo it would take three to five business days for a credit — even though the payment was clearly in error and a keystroke could have returned the money to her account immediately.

    Then, a couple of days later, a different representative called to say it would take much longer, perhaps a month. The problem, the Comcast rep said, was that the telecommunications giant hadn’t actually received payment. “We don’t have the money. The bank does,” Moquin-Vaudo recalls the Comcast rep saying.

    Jackie Moquin-Vaudo inadventently paid Comcast $18,200 for a $182 monthly bill.
    BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF
    Jackie Moquin-Vaudo inadventently paid Comcast $18,200 for a $182 monthly bill.

    Moquin-Vaudo called her local branch of Bank of America, where she has done business for more than two decades. The payment to Comcast had gone out five days earlier, the bank said. Moquin-Vaudo logged into her account and saw a copy of a check made out to Comcast. (Ordinarily, online payments to Comcast and other companies are made by electronic deposit. But Comcast and other companies require a paper check for large payments.)

    Moquin-Vaudo called back Comcast expecting a quick resolution. But she recalls being told, “Well, we are going to have to wait 10 days for the check to clear and it will take two to three weeks after that for a check to issue to you.”

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    Moquin-Vaudo teaches fifth grade. She loves it, but it’s not exactly a path to riches. Her husband, Dan, manages an auto body repair shop. They’re raising three children.

    For their 25th wedding anniversary this month Jackie and Dan ventured down to Narragansett, R.I., for an overnight stay. Nothing too fancy. They’re not in a position to wait for a huge sum of money that is rightfully theirs.

    So she asked me for help.

    Two days after I first contacted Comcast, the company caved and Moquin-Vaudo got her money.

    “It was a miserable way to begin the summer,” said Moquin-Vaudo. “You don’t realize how powerless you feel dealing with these big corporations until something like this happens.”

    A Comcast spokesman characterized Moquin-Vaudo as uncooperative about providing bank documentation. When Comcast finally got it, he said, the company cut a check. “We worked as fast as we could to return the funds to our customer, and attempted to communicate and keep her updated throughout the process,” he said.

    I don’t buy it.

    After I got involved, Comcast suddenly had a fast-action plan whereby a Comcast supervisor got on the phone with a bank manager who confirmed that $18,236 had indeed been debited from Moquin-Vaudo’s account in the form of a check to Comcast. The bank manager said he had a copy of the check and agreed to the Comcast supervisor’s request to have a copy of it sent to her.

    The Comcast spokesman I dealt with tried to make it sound like the copy of the check provided by the bank broke the logjam. But from everything I’ve seen, Comcast had the real check for two weeks.

    Also, I wondered why hadn’t someone at Comcast noticed that the payment Moquin-Vaudo made for a month’s worth of Internet and cable television totaled more than $18,000, and taken it upon themselves to quickly rectify the situation?

    Out of curiosity, I asked a T-Mobile representative why it had returned Moquin-Vaudo’s money so quickly, in such sharp contrast to Comcast.

    “It just was the right thing to do,” came the reply.

    Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.