OKLAHOMA - Food-Stamp Accounts Overcharged

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Title: Food-Stamp Accounts Overcharged

By AP Wire Service 5/24/00

STILLWATER (AP) -- Access Oklahoma accounts involving food stamp clients are being checked manually for overcharges after the failure of a national electronic banking system led to problems with at least 133 accounts.

More than $11,833 in transactions have been found so far in the check that is under way by the state Department of Human Services.

DHS spokesman George Earl Johnson Jr. said the number of overcharges could increase as the inspection continues.

The Stillwater NewsPress reported that Wal-Mart stores appear to be the only locations where the overcharges occurred during the failure of a data transfer system May 13.

Tom Williams, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the company would look into the complaints and rectify any problems. He said the company regretted any inconvenience to customers.

"We are going to work with the appropriate agencies to restore any monies that need to be restored," he said.

The overcharges apparently occurred when cashiers would process the Access Oklahoma cards more than once because the correct transaction code would not return while the data transfer system, Electronic Data Systems, was down.

Some cards were swiped through the system as many as eight times, Johnson said.

Through Monday morning's check, 133 clients were affected. Those problems were found at 16 of the more than 100 Wal-Mart stores in the state. Johnson said he doesn't expect another analysis on the accounts until Friday.

"It's a slow and tedious process. They're going to work it until they get it complete."

Johnson said the DHS check found that the problem with the Oklahoma Access accounts began when the Electric Data Systems gateway, an electronic transfer service provider for banking transactions, failed nationwide for about an hour on May 13.

DHS began checking the accounts May 15 when it became aware of problems reported by clients.

Debit and credit transactions are made through the transfer service.

"Wal-Mart made a decision to disconnect or stop attempting to do their approvals, and they would hold them on their local buffers, their local servers," Johnson said. "When they thought the system was up, they would reconnect the system."

Johnson said Wal-Mart had problems re-establishing its links and had an outage of about 18 hours. Store transactions were stored in local servers.

Johnson said there were problems because the transactions went by satellite link from local Wal-Marts to company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

"And then (Wal-Mart goes) through and does the things they need to collect money from all the different banking institutions," Johnson said.

When the system was back up, all the transactions Wal-Mart had stored were sent, including the multiple card swipes.

Cardholders may not know they have been affected unless they check their account balances. Access Oklahoma clients whose accounts have been affected by the May 13 outage should contact their county DHS office.

A total of 120,917 Access Oklahoma cards were in effect in March in Oklahoma covering 106,563 food stamp cases and 14,354 temporary assistance for needy families cases.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), May 24, 2000

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