Bank’s computer glitch affects some accounts

Customers with the Bank of Clarke County may have seen extra money temporarily pulled out of their accounts this week after using their debit cards at gas pumps due to a computer glitch.

Bank Vice President Jim McCarty said the trouble started on Sunday, when the bank changed its computer programming for preauthorization at the gas pump. Amounts ranging from $75 to $150 were taken out customers’ accounts temporarily during the preauthorization transaction ‘inquiry’ and held until the actual amount of the gas purchase was taken out of the accounts.

When a debit card is swiped for a prepaid transaction at a gas pump, the gas station does not know how much to charge the account because the gas has not been pumped. In order to know there are sufficient funds in the account, the gas pump will electronically verify if there is money in the account by sending an “inquiry” to the account, anywhere from $50 to $150.

Chris Brannon, a spokesperson for Martin’s food store, said the company’s preauthorization inquiry is $150 for credit and $100 for debit.

“When you use credit at the pump, it sends out the inquiry to verify if there’s $150 in the account,” Brannon said. “If the answer is yes, then the card is valid and the customer is authorized to pump.”

Brannon said, “Then when the customer pumps, say for $48.50, then after the transaction is complete, the amount is charged to the account.”

When the inquiry is sent to the bank, it goes through a transaction processing company, like Visa or MasterCard, and then goes to the bank. At the Bank of Clarke County, when the preauthorization inquiry was sent to the bank, the amount was changed to $1, McCarty said.

“We never got to see $125 or $150, because it got changed to a dollar and a dollar authorization basically goes back into the transaction history as ‘yes/no’ transaction,” McCarty said. “At banks, we have little to no control over the movement of funds in the transaction network.”

McCarty added, “So the whole goal is to get and approve the preauthorization amount, set it in the account to calculate the current balance, then shortly afterwards drop it off when the transaction comes in. In the best-case scenario, this happens in a matter of minutes.”

McCarty said the bank’s preauthorization interface was outdated when it updated its system, which caused a “bug” where the preauthorization amount was not dropped off and converted to $1.

“When we started asking questions about why it wasn’t dropped off, our transaction vendor told us our interface system wasn’t up to date,” McCarty said. “We started calling the vendors and now we’re caught between two vendors trying to get the program straightened out.”

Due to the bank’s size, McCarty said it is “not high priority.” However, he said he hoped the system is fixed by Friday morning.

“I have done everything I can to expedite the change,” McCarty said. “Fingers crossed, we should have it back to pulling out a dollar while we have our interface updated.”

McCarty said while the money pulled out of the account for the preauthorization inquiry has been replaced within a day, some money might be delayed because gasoline retailers are delaying when they report the transaction to the bank.

“I did a gas transaction for testing on Tuesday and that transaction just arrived today for settlement,” McCarty said. “A lot of merchants are back settling by waiting until to the end of the day or the next day to submit the charges to the network.”

McCarty said the bank received numerous complaints during the week regarding the glitch. He said the bank has been providing customers information on the glitch on an as needed basis.

“The majority of our customers don’t even know it’s happened,” McCarty said. “But we’re coming up on the weekend, so we’re rushing to get this fixed.”

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com