Credit cards and EA/Mythic’s epic billing mistake
Most of us have long since overcome our fear of handing over our credit cards to Internet merchants. It’s become routine for most of us to simply do so. We buy stuff, we sign up for subscriptions, it’s just like handing over plastic anytime else. For that matter, most of us have never really thought about all that credit card data laying around in the hands of brick-and-mortar merchants with whom we do business, until the unfortunate times when that data gets mass-compromised.
Bad billing problems plague lots of organizations, but Electronic Arts (in the form of its Mythic Entertainment studio, which does the massively multiplayer online RPGs Dark Ages of Camelot and Warhammer Online) just had a major screw-up: a severe billing system error that, several days ago, repeatedly charged customers their subscription fees. Not just one extra charge, but, some users say, more than sixty. Worse still, the error reportedly affected not just current customers, but past customers. A month’s subscription is $15, but users can pre-pay for as much as a year. And these days, with credit cards so often actually being checking-account debit cards, that is often an immediate hit to the wallet. So you can imagine the impact on even users with decent bank balances, being hit by multiple charges. (Plenty of people with good-sized savings cushions only keep enough money in the checking account to cover expected bills, so you don’t have to be on the actual fiscal edge to get smacked with overdraft fees.) EA is scrambling to get this straightened out, of course, but this is every company’s worst billing nightmare, and it comes at a time when EA and its competitors are all scrambling to shift their business models online.
How many merchants that you don’t do business with any longer, but used to have recurring billing permission on your credit card, still have your credit card on file? As online commerce and micropayments proliferate, how many more merchants will store that data? (Or will PayPal, Apple’s storefronts, and other payment services rule the world?)