View Full Version : Did a Red Cross Blunder Double Your Donation?

11-29-2012, 07:53 AM
If you were one of the many who gave to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund after superstorm Sandy wrecked great swaths of New York and New Jersey, look closely at your credit card statement. You might be unpleasantly surprised.

A technical problem has caused an unknown number of Red Cross donors to be charged twice after making an online donation. Since the Oct. 29 storm, individuals have donated $168 million to the organization. But a small number may have given more than they meant to. According to a Red Cross spokesperson, fewer than 1 percent of donors were overcharged, but the charity wouldn't provide absolute figures.

The Red Cross notes something is amiss with a message on its online contact page that reads "Please note that we’ve experienced technical issues that have impacted a small number of donors and are working quickly to resolve the issues." Instructions for requesting a refund follow.

But nothing in their online FAQ or, to my searching, anywhere else on the site, specifies the problem.

Since the Red Cross hasn’t publicized the error until now, and has not yet contacted all affected donors, the only way to be sure if your donation was doubled is to carefully check your records. That’s how I stumbled across the issue.

I’m not a big bank statement scourer, so it’s a lucky coincidence that I was doing detective work into the fallout from some slightly frenzied holiday shopping. I noticed that a few minutes after the $100 donation I intended to make on Nov. 2 was debited, another $100 was plucked from my account.

A customer service representative confirmed over the phone that I wasn’t the only person who’d had the same problem. She cited a “technical glitch” and said the organization was aware of numerous cases in which donors were charged twice.

After I called the company requesting a comment, a spokesperson described the glitch:

“The issue affected online users who either had their JavaScript settings turned off in their browser or had slow internet connections. When either of these things happened, an error code was generated that inadvertently caused someone to add another donation to their online shopping cart. If the user didn't notice that they had two items in their cart and didn't remove them before final checkout, they would be charged more than they intended.”

That’s unlikely to explain what caused the double-dipping in my case. The receipt I was emailed reflected only the amount I intended to donate. If I had overlooked a second donation in my cart before hitting “purchase,” I would have seen a receipt for twice that amount. The discrepancy between the organization’s explanation and my experience suggests there may be another reason for the bug, or multiple types of errors that have occured.

The Red Cross also says it believes it identified all of the donors that were overcharged, and has been contacting them to alert them to the mistake. I’m still waiting on that call. They are working on a solution to the problem, which affects only online donations and not donations made via text message, and say they expect to fix it this week. If you were charged twice by the organization, call 1-800-733-2767 to request a refund.

This is the latest misstep for the Red Cross, which has been criticized for its relief efforts in the month since the catastrophic storm. Felix Salmon writes that layers of bureaucracy, a confused mission and poor coordination have dramatically limited the type and number services the Red Cross can provide. And frustrated volunteers aligned with other aid groups complain that the charity’s signature red and white trucks are troublingly scarce in the areas most affected by the storm.

The Red Cross points out that they have provided more than 7.5 million meals and snacks in New York and New Jersey, distributed more than 5.3 million relief items like cleaning supplies and cold weather gear, offered 87,000 “health services and emotional support contacts” and are responsible for more than 77,600 of the 150,000 shelter stays storm victims have made.

Mistakes happen, and this could turn out to be a relatively minor one for the Red Cross. But at a time when people are just starting to donate again — individual giving is up 2 percent through this September, according to GivingUSA, and still well below 2007 highs — causing any reason for a donor to hesitate is a potential headache.

Did a Red Cross Blunder Double Your Donation? | LinkedIn (