Hippo Video glitch leads to overcharges

When freshman Audrey Levandowski decided to rent “Chocolat” from Hippo Video on May 2, she expected to pay the typical $3 charge for a one-night rental. What she did not expect was being billed $30 a day for the next three days after she already returned the movie.

Upon receiving a receipt from a separate GWorld purchase, Levandowski checked her online transaction history and realized her card was mistakenly being charged for her returned video. She contacted Hippo Video and received a reply from the company within two hours.

Levandowski’s case is not unique. According to the GWorld office, 655 students were mistakenly overcharged by the video rental kiosk inside Gelman Library due to a software malfunction over a six-day period in early May. Students’ accounts were charged daily with costs ranging from 84 cents to $32. Some students accumulated more than $100 dollars in mistaken fees, according to the GWorld office.

Asal Moghadam, operations manager for Hippo Video, said the error was caused by a system crash in early May that led students to be overcharged. She added that her company, which installed the vending machine in the Gelman lobby in early November, takes full blame for the malfunction.

“We need to better our technology,” Moghadam said. “Nothing went wrong during our first nine months, but anything that has gone wrong was on our part.”

While the machine was fixed May 8, Hippo Video is still refunding students’ money.

“Hippo Video is currently working to validate each of the late fee charges, and the correct charges will be verified and posted through a manual process,” said Stephanie Tant, associate director of GWorld Program Operations.

The GWorld office has been working to resolve the issue since it received its initial complaint. Tant was first notified of a problem on May 6 and immediately contacted Hippo Video and Institutional Auxiliary Services, a University department, to inform them of the complaints.

“GWorld informed students to contact Hippo Video’s customer service line to report any problems so that Hippo Video could work with the customers directly to determine the nature of the charge error,” Tant wrote in an e-mail last week.

In January, 16 students had more than $1,300 in Colonial Cash stolen from a CVS pharmacy on 22nd and E streets. Though the CVS incident was due to a malicious employee, unwarranted billing is an issue of concern for GW and its students.

While University officials stress that the best way to protect against fraud is for students to monitor their personal accounts online, the GWorld office monitors merchants for “unusually large and suspicious transactions,” Tant said.

No merchants have ever been removed from the GWorld program due to fraudulent activity, and Tant said, “This was a unique situation due to a very specific software malfunction.”

She added, “GWorld will continue to work closely with GWorld Colonial Cash partners to identify and resolve any problems as quickly as possible and enforce the University’s contractual agreement with GWorld Card partners.”

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