Good deed punished: Man's debit card charged twice

October 15, 2012 4:16:33 PM PDT
If you are ever asked by a family member or friend to pay a bill for them, you may want to think twice about how you make that payment.

As one Houston man found out, using a debit card or credit card to help others can lead to more problems for you.

This all started with a good deed. A Houston man's sister-in-law needed help paying a bill so he gave the woman his debit card number to make a single payment. Months later, more money was taken from his account without his permission.

Oscar Varner was trying to do the right thing by helping his sister-in-law.

"Back in April, I paid a bill for my sister-in-law because she could not pay it, so I paid it for her," Varner told Eyewitness News.

Varner's sister-in-law made that payment to Why Not Lease It using Varner's debit card information. Varner says he thought that would be the only charge. But five months later another charge appeared from Why Not Lease It.

"They did not even ask me or nothing, so they said any debit card that is on the account they debit the money off of it," said Varner.

He says he called the company about that second charge and says he was eventually told it would not be refunded. When we contacted Why Not Lease It the company told us a refund would be processed within 48 hours. A company spokesperson told us they were not aware the debit card did not belong to the person who actually owned the money.

"The company did the right thing here, has done what a lot of companies would not do," said University of Houston Law Professor Richard Alderman.

The People's Lawyer Richard Alderman says that is because if a person lets someone else use their credit or debit card, that other person becomes an agent of the card holder. That means the card holder is typically responsible for any chargers.

"You can be responsible for everything they charge. You have to be very, very careful if you give someone else your credit card or credit card number to use," Alderman told us.

Alderman says it is OK to be generous, but there are better ways to pay someone's bill.

"Give them a check or take the money out of the debit card account and give them the cash," Alderman said.

The company says they would not have charged the debit card a second time if they had known the card did not belong to an account holder.

What if the only way to help make someone's bill payment is by using a debit or credit card? Alderman says in that case the card holder needs to make the call for payment and make it clear the payment is a one-time charge.


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