PT The Auditor
Data, Data Everywhere…
Here’s the issue: We’ve moved from tracking contract card holders on 3x5 cards to complex data bases that need constant updating. They are most likely automated to the point that most of the card holders are automatically invoiced or have their credit cards charged monthly. If they don’t pay, or if their card is invalid, their card is turned off and they must come in and sort themselves out. So far so good.
However, with the newer PARCS systems, managers have a wealth of data at their fingertips about customers. Name, address, phone and Social Security numbers, employee ID, payroll codes, e-mail address, credit card numbers, driver’s license number and more. This becomes a potential for both identity theft and credit card theft. With more systems accepting credit cards automatically for payments and with managers having access to do a direct refund of credit card payments, well …
As an example, I had my credit card on file at a garage I audit for a test card to charge $1 automatically at the first of the month. That way I could be sure the automatic credit card system was working properly. The clerk or assistant manager unknowingly assigned that card number to a real customer for parking but did not pay attention to the fact I had my credit card on file. I ended up paying for two months of the new customer’s parking before I found out about it. We had to credit my credit card from the system (a 2.5% cost to the garage twice: once when my card was charged and again when it was refunded), and then inform the customer that he was two months behind in his payments.
How could this happen?
When a person decides to no longer park in the garage, that card number record is “turned off” and can be reused. Of course, all the information in the file should be eliminated. However, clerks often simply take out the name/address fields and leave the rest to clear out later. When they reassign the record number, the new data are input and should delete the older data. However, if the clerk gets distracted and can’t remember whether or not the credit card was entered and simply looks to see if the data are present, suddenly I’m paying for someone else’s
Let’s assume that parking is paid on a corporate credit card. Person “A” leaves and the account is closed, but the corporate card is left in the file. A few months later, that account number is reused for a new customer and the existing card is inadvertently used to pay for the parking. It could be years before the original card holder notices the charge. Try to unwind that.
Managers now have the ability to alter outstanding balances on monthly accounts, and no one is really looking at these adjustments since they are local to the garage. Of equal importance, most managers were never trained as bookkeepers or accountants.
For instance: Your card number is 123; however, I posted your payment to card number 132, a simple typo. You are locked out for non-payment but show your receipt/cancelled check. The manager makes your card work; however, he does not figure out who received your payment so account number 132 now has a “credit” due to the incorrect posting. Someone gets a month’s free parking.
What if a customer “cancels” their parking account, except they do not remove their vehicle from the garage on or by the first? The customer then exits on the third or fourth, and is permitted to exit for free because the “card was not working.” Now the customer is gone and there is no recourse to collect the money. The grace period is a throwback to waiting for the check in the mail. Now, with online payment, credit card on file and online account management, there is no valid reason to offer a five- to 10-day grace period for parking. Most monthly parking is sold as month-to-month parking and not a legal long-term contract.
In another case, the manager noticed a customer has a multi-month outstanding balance. The manager assumes that customer has quit parking and failed to inform the garage since there was no activity on the card and closed the account. Fair enough. However, the customer had left the country for a year and assumed his parking was being paid on his credit card (his car was in the lot). When he returned to get his car, he was presented with a bill for $7,000, which he paid. In this case, the manager didn’t really attempt to contact the customer and find out what the situation was.
There are other issues that involve payroll deduction. An employee goes on maternity leave and the payroll deduction for parking is stopped. When she returns, her card is reinstated, but was the payroll deduction? The opposite of this is the issue of stopping the payroll deduction but keeping her card on. Often payroll deductions aren’t cross-referenced with the active card file.
What is happening is that we are advancing so fast in the PARCS systems but the on-site managers do not have the skill levels to manage these systems, and they were never trained to account for “electronic” money or adjustments. Cash and checks, they can see and feel, but there is no concept on EFT that it is “real” money, and no one outside the garage knows what is happening since few if any operations even monitor the daily PARCS system.
One might say this problem is one of unskilled staff. However, it’s really an issue of training and supervision. These data base “lapses” can cost thousands.
Article Abstract from November, 2007