Early Toys R Us shoppers get worm: 2 charges for purchases

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I swiped my debit card to get on the light rail and was billed for a bus ticket the machine wouldn't give me. I had to pay $1.50 again to get my oldest son onto our next connection. I know! Frustrating.

As someone who's always living on the very edge of black in her checking account, I know too well the dangers of unexpected transactions, and for me they come in $29 overdraft increments. Customers at Toys R Us this weekend, shopping before regular store opening hours during Black Friday, experienced a similar and far more account-balance-deadly problem: double billing.

Keith Bossey, a marketing and strategy consultant in New York City, may not be at the edge of his bank account, but he just found out today he was double-billed for his purchase.

"Wife says cashiers were frazzled," his Tweet says; but according to the Consumerist, this probably wasn't due to the cashiers' early morning agitation, but of an entirely systems-related fray.

Way upstate in Albany, N.Y., Kathleen Cary told local NEWS10 that her $127.59 purchase was subtracted from her account twice, causing $50 in overdraft fees. Why buy toys when you barely have enough left in your account? As my 7-year-old would say, derrr.

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Cary told NEW10, "I knew I was on a tight budget. That's why I got up in the middle of the night and went shopping; with the economy you've got to try and save a penny."

Kathleen Waugh of Toys R Us told us on the phone that it had "all been resolved" and sent a statement, "A systems issue occurred in some of our stores early on Black Friday. This resulted in some customers incurring double charges on their credit cards... We worked quickly to identify the customers affected and any double charges on credit cards have since been reversed."

But even a few minutes after I talked to Kathleen, a Twitter user named Teresa was complaining that she'd been charged $217.97 twice when she shopped at the very beginning of Black Friday, at midnight in Virginia.

Several states away, in Indiana, Jeannine had the same complaint. Further north, in Detroit, more customers complained. The toy retailer told ClickOnDetroit that the error occurred because stores opened earlier than usual. A glitch meant that some transactions were repeated 48 hours later.

While this widespread systems glitch is frustrating for consumers, it also exposes some of the unexpected dangers of shopping in the heady hours between midnight Thanksgiving and the normal, ordinary shopping hours typically kept by consuming human beings.

In the wee hours, employees are exhausted and stressed and discomfited; shoppers are strung out on bargains and caffeine and good old fashioned acquisitory lust; systems unused to handling transactions 24 hours a day can fail. Mistakes are made, both of the human and inhuman sort. Bodies are jostled. Too much is spent.

When spending with a debit card, as so many of us are these days, the balance between positive and negative is too often upset, and the wages of this sin are punishing overdraft fees, embarrassment, brokeness.

It's a cautionary tale, and while I've never cared to shop 'round 1 a.m. on Black Friday, I've decided: from now on, I pay for Christmas purchases with cash.
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