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Atmos Energy reverses thousands of overcharged payments

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AMARILLO - There are benefits and drawbacks to using automatic payment services to take care of your monthly bills, and this week thousands of Atmos Energy customers learned the hard way about some of the drawbacks.

Close to 40,000 Atmos Energy customers were charged 10 times what they owed Sunday night.

2,325 panhandle and permian basis customers found the surprise in their e-mail inboxes and bank accounts Monday after Atmos realized what happened.

Bills were charged 10 times the correct amount.

"It was a vendor that processes our payments that made the error and it was an isolated incident that happened," local Atmos Energy Spokesperson Roy Urrutia said.

The mistake resulted from a computer glitch by Bill Matrix, the company Atmos uses to process recurring automatic payments.

"It was how the file was read and the decimal point being moved over by one that caused the error," Urrutia said.

Refunds are already in the bank accounts of those customers, or at least on their way.
 
But financial experts say this should serve as a warning to those who use auto-draft to pay monthly bills.

"A lot of people don't reconcile their bank statements like they used to," Amarillo National Bank Assistant Vice President Lucia Boone said. "We still encourage them to do it daily and not to let transactions on your account that you're not aware of or that you didn't approve."

Boone says using auto-draft can be beneficial to your credit score because it ensures bills are always on time, but it can also be risky if you don't keep regular tabs on your accounts and billing statements from merchants.

In the rare case of a mistake like the recent Atmos Energy overcharge, over-draft fees can add up on a debit card. Boone says a safer option would be to use a credit card for those purposes, or simply not sign up for auto-draft with merchants.

"There's the option of doing automatic bill pay which they can trigger within their account," Boone said. "They can trigger those automatic payments to come out of their account, rather than have the merchant draft it from their account."
   
Boone says any time you notice an in-correct charge on your account always contact the merchant immediately, before calling the bank or credit card institution.

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