$55 debited from Wellington woman's account for four brief payphone calls

Adeline Saunders made four brief calls from a Spark payphone in Johnsonville Mall, and was debited $55.
KEVIN STENT/STUFF

Adeline Saunders made four brief calls from a Spark payphone in Johnsonville Mall, and was debited $55.

Four quick calls on a Spark payphone resulted in more than $55 being debited from a Wellington woman's account.

Spark insists  Adeline Saunders will get most of the money back and the procedure – by which her money is essentially held for days – is clearly signalled on all its payphones.

Saunders was meeting a friend at the Johnsonville Mall, northern Wellington, on Friday morning but had not pre-arranged a meeting spot and forgot to take her mobile phone with her.

The Spark payphone at Johnsonville Mall has a notice - at the bottom left of the sign above the phone - warning of the ...
FAIRFAX NZ

The Spark payphone at Johnsonville Mall has a notice - at the bottom left of the sign above the phone - warning of the pre-authorisation charge.

She found a Spark payphone in the food court and, not knowing her friend's number, called her husband's mobile. The first three calls went to voicemail, before he answered the final call, which lasted no more than a minute.

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When Saunders got home later, she checked the balance on her debit card and saw that $55.20 had been deducted – $13.80 for each of the four calls.

Detail of the pre-authorisation notice.
FAIRFAX NZ

Detail of the pre-authorisation notice.

"I think it's outrageous to be charged like that. Plus not many people have that sort of money handy," she said.

Spark confirmed  international communication company BBG Global was the merchant, which it used to protect customers' card information when using payphones. 

"When customers use a credit or debit card in a Spark payphone, there is a pre-authorisation 'hold' or reserve authorisation of around $13 put on the card prior to connecting the call," a statement said.

"I think it's outrageous to be charged like that. Plus not many people have that sort of money handy," Saunders says.
KEVIN STENT/STUFF

"I think it's outrageous to be charged like that. Plus not many people have that sort of money handy," Saunders says.

"This is similar to the hold put on people's credit card when they pay at pump for petrol.  The authorisation process does not discriminate between debit and credit cards and there is never a transfer of funds until the actual call has been ended and the cost has been calculated."

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Banks usually released the hold at the end of the call but some banks took up to seven days.

The process was explained in stickers on phones.

The "vast majority" of Spark payphone boxes did not cover their costs and were kept in place to provide a valuable public service, Spark said.

When Stuff visited the phone in the Johnsonville Mall on Tuesday, the "pre-authorisation" sticker was indeed there - albeit only relating to credit, not debit, cards and giving the cost of $12.

Spark apologised to Saunders "if she has missed the pre-authorisation information on the phone box", and assured her she would not be charged the full $13.80 for each call.

"However, there may be a slight delay while her bank releases the reserve authorisation amounts."

Four days after the money was taken from her account, Saunders said only $13.80 had been refunded. 

She had not noticed the sticker, on a board above the phone with a lot of other information.

She said that, regardless of what institution held the money, it was still not available to her.

A Commerce Commission spokeswoman would not comment on specifics but said, in general, signage must be clear and accurate.

"Consumers must be made aware of the details of the transaction, such as the costs and how they will be charged, before making a purchase."

 - Stuff

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