Eat at Little Caesars Pizza in January? Better check with the bank.
Thousands of credit and debit card transactions at two Little Caesars Pizza restaurants in Sonoma County were delayed, some as long as nine months.
The glitch, apparently with the bank that processes payments, caused a temporary revenue slump for the franchise owner, an uproar from customers and also may have violated the time limit for valid transactions.
With the art of balancing a bank account having mostly gone the way of the Dodo bird, it was overdrawn accounts, delayed fees and sinking-heart moments at the bank for perhaps thousands of customers who bought pizza at the restaurants in Rohnert Park and Petaluma.
"I just don't know how a business can hold onto transactions that long," said Scott Rostoni, 37, of Petaluma, who last week was hit with $300 in withdrawals stemming from purchases back to February.
Kiersten Percell, 24, of Petaluma was shocked to see her account was overdrawn last week when she deposited a check.
The culprit: eight transactions from Little Caesars Pizza totalling about $130. But Percell hadn't been to the North McDowell Boulevard restaurant in weeks.
"I was furious, I thought Little Caesars stole my debit card information," Percell said.
But the problem stems from the company that processes Little Caesars card transactions, said franchise owner Fred Berry, who owns five Little Caesars in Sonoma County.
Berry said the company he works with to process card transactions is identified on paperwork as Fifth Third Bank based in Cincinnati. A bank representative said the company that processes transactions recently split from the bank and is now called Vantiv, also based in Cincinnati. Vantiv personnel didn't respond to emails or phone calls Wednesday.
The bank processes all card transactions at all of his restaurants, Berry said. But the glitch affected only the Rohnert Park and Petaluma stores.
Berry said he noticed in late August that he was missing "a large, large amount of money" from a few thousand transactions.
Officials with Fifth Third Bank told him that a software glitch caused the payments to hang in limbo at the two stores, Berry said.
Customers who paid with credit or visa cards between Jan. 3 and September never got charged.
Finally, the bank sent all the charges through during the first two weeks of September, with some customers getting billed nine months after the meal.
"This is a nightmare," said Berry, who lives in American Canyon.
The delay was too long in some cases, according to a spokesman with Visa.
A merchant must deposit a debit or credit card transaction within three days, said Visa spokesman Ted Carr. Within five days of the transaction, the company that handles credit and debit charges, called an acquirer, must process the payment.
"These customers that got hit, if they're questioning this, they have some rights," said Byron Webb, vice president of electronic banking with Exchange Bank.
Normally when a customer pays for an item with a card, the seller's computer system requests a preliminary authorization from the bank, said Webb.
The system "pings" the customer's bank and if there are enough funds the transaction is authorized. Most transactions are posted to the person's account the next business day, but the bank's preliminary authorization is good for 90 days, Webb said.