A freak error in Buffalo’s water billing system caused a slight panic for some customers, and the Buffalo Water Authority’s billing agent, Veolia Water, over the last two weeks.
Buffalo Water officials blamed the glitch on someone’s “Fat Finger” keystroke. That is when you go to tap a key on your computer’s keyboard–or smartphone keypad–but mistakenly hit a key next to it.
Fat Finger mistakes have been known to send users to unintended websites, lead to identity theft, and in some cases, the error has unwittingly taken users to pornography websites.
Hundreds of customer payments were kicked out of Veolia’s billing data base, during the period of April 24 through the April 26, including two payments Diane Hill made for her mother, and water officials laid the blame on a Fat Finger.
Hill pays the water bills for her mom, Isabel, over the phone. Back on April 26, she made a $150 payment, then when Diane called Veolia to check the balance they told her they had not received the payment.
Worried that fees and penalties could pile up while she straightened out on her mother’s account, Diane made another payment of $150.
“If she don’t keep on top of the payment plan, it is going to be a late fee, it is going to be a lot of issues like that. I just really, really want to know what is going on with the water company.”
Eventually a Veolia supervisor confirmed receiving both of Isabel’s payments, but he also told Diane, the agency had some trouble with their payment processing system.
“He said it was like a whole lot of people’s payments was messed up–he told me it went into the thousands. I am like, excuse me? He said it was into the thousands.”
The freak glitch was confirmed by Olawole McFoy, chairman of Buffalo’s Water Board, and McFoy blamed it on a “fat finger” keystroke.
As someone was entering numeric data into the invoice “cloud” at Veolia–likely an account number–somehow an alpha, or letter, key was mistakenly entered in place of a number, and McFoy said it threw the whole system out of whack.
Payment processing was knocked off line for three days and McFoy said it affected nearly 1,000 accounts.
“That actually caused an error and kicked out the entire field. So all 987 customers, their payments did not go through, and they were not reflected in our billing system.))
McFoy said IT staff corrected the design flaw, tested it earlier this week, and it was successful. The re-designed software is now set to catch a glitch in their data before it gets processed, rather than getting stumped by a simple mistake.