Man who overpaid phone bill by $13,000 gets refund a month later

Man who overpaid phone bill by $13,000 gets refund a month later

SINGAPORE - He was making a routine online payment for his monthly phone bill when he mistakenly typed a payment 100 times more than the charge.

Instead of paying $138.73 to SingTel, Dr Chua Teo Ngee paid $13,873.

He made the transaction on May 31 and realised his mistake when he received an SMS from his bank minutes later.

The 59-year-old general practitioner immediately called SingTel to ask for a refund of the excess payment.

"I was not worried at that time as I was confident that such a reputable company would return me my money promptly and in full," he said. SingTel did, indeed, return the excess. They even did so personally.

But because of a delay in bank transfer for security reasons, he was able to get his money only a month later.

There was also some miscommunication.

A SingTel spokesman told The New Paper that the bank transfer had not been completed when Dr Chua contacted them. "Thus we could not process the refund immediately," he said.

"Also, as the refund involved both Dr Chua's company account and personal account, more time was needed to verify details for security reasons."

When Dr Chua first alerted SingTel, its customer service officer told him that it was SingTel's practice to keep the excess amount as credit to offset future payments.

But he protested that it was too large an amount.

The excess of more than $13,000 could have covered his phone bill for about eight years.

Dr Chua said the customer service officer promised a full refund within three weeks.

As he was due to go on a holiday, Dr Chua said: "It was at the back of my mind. It's an extremely large amount of money for anyone." When he still had not received the refund after returning from his 10-day trip, he wrote to The Straits Times Forum page. His letter appeared on Tuesday, with a reply from SingTel published yesterday.

A SingTel officer contacted Dr Chua on the morning that his letter appeared and went to his office the following day to hand him a cheque for the refund.

RELIEF

While Dr Chua is relieved and pleased at the outcome, he is wondering if what he saw as a simple matter could not have been solved more speedily.

The SingTel spokesman added: "Typically, for excess payments of smaller amounts, we offer customers a convenient option to offset against subsequent bills.

"Should customers prefer a refund, we will gladly arrange for one. We apologise to Dr Chua for the additional delay this has caused." Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said: "I understand that it might take a while for the transaction, but SingTel should have returned Mr Chua his money as soon as possible."

She added that once a company is aware of an overpayment, the money should be returned promptly or it would be "a misappropriation of funds".

"Should such a situation occur, one can approach the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and engage a lawyer. One can even ask for an apology from the company," she added.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said: "In our view, businesses should leave the option to the consumers to decide whether the excess amount is to remain as credit or to be refunded immediately.

"In this case, it seems that SingTel has given the option to the consumer, who chose to have a refund. The consumer could approach Case if he is faced with a similar situation and needs our assistance."

melodyng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 05, 2014.
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