It has been another busy week in the land of IT-related snarls, malfunctions and snafus. We start off this week’s edition with a bank which blamed a house repossession error on bad GPS coordinates.
Bank Repo Crew Repossesses Wrong House
Katie Barnett of McArthur, Ohio, returned to her house after a two week vacation to find that the locks on her doors had been changed. Fearing that a squatter had tried to take over her home while she was away, Barnett broke in only to find that all her possessions were gone, says a story in the Daily Mail.
What Barnett soon found out was that a repo crew sent by First National Bank of Wellston, Ohio, had mistaken her house for the bank-owned home across the street, even though her house number is 514 and the one across the street is numbered 509.
According to an ABC News story, the bank’s president and CEO Anthony Thorne put out a statement (pdf) on the bank's website that blamed the problem on a GPS error. Thorne’s statement says that the GPS locator led the bank's “representatives” to the “wrong home, which was located on the same street as the target property (we have since retraced their route using the same GPS, and it again took us to the same wrong location).”
The representatives, Thorne claims, “noted that the grass was overgrown, the door was unlocked, and the utilities had been turned off. The home was also nearly empty, with two dressers being the only furniture inside the premises, and a neighbor indicated that the home had been vacant for some time.” So they apparently assumed that even though the house number was wrong, they were at the right place.
Thorne stated, “This situation was a mistake on the part of our bank and—as we have done previously—we sincerely apologize to the homeowner for the inconvenience and concern it may have caused. In addition, we communicated to the homeowner our desire to compensate her fairly and equitably for her inconvenience and loss.”
There seems to be a disagreement, however, over the amount of compensation owed. Barnett provided the bank with an itemized list of what she claimed was lost, which she said amounted to US $18 000 of personal property. However, the bank disagrees that the two dressers and other personal property it says its representatives discovered in the house were worth that much. The bank wants Barnett to come up with receipts for what she claims the representatives removed, and then the bank will decide how much to pay based on a fair market valuation. Exactly how Barnett is supposed to come up receipts that would be likely be in the “trash” that the bank’s representatives admittedly threw out wasn’t explained by the bank in it's statement.
Barnett is now planning a lawsuit against the bank.
Technology, Equipment Problems Blamed for 1 in 4 Surgical Errors
The prospect of undergoing a surgical procedure is always likely to cause anxiety. A research study published last week in the UK journal BMJ Quality & Safetywill probably only make going under the knife even more anxiety inducing. According to the study of surgical technology and operating-room safety failures, nearly one-quarter (23.5 percent) of all surgical suite errors can be attributed to “failures of equipment/technology.”
The research study, which examined published studies on surgical safety failures, discovered that “an average of 2.4 errors was recorded for each procedure, although this figure rose to 15.5 when an independent observer recorded the errors,” a story at Science Daily noted.
Of the failures categorized as being related to equipment issues, 37 percent were attributed to equipment availability, 44 percent to problems with equipment configurations and setting, and 33 percent to device malfunctions. It is unclear how many device malfunctions are the direct result of software problems, or if equipment issues also involve operator error—which has been a concern recently with robotic surgery.
A story at LiveScience indicated that medical errors affect around 15 percent of patients, with half of these resulting in adverse events. Not surprisingly, LiveScience noted that the BMJ Quality & Safety study found “operations that rely heavily on technology, such as heart surgeries, had higher rates of equipment problems than did general surgeries.”
Using pre-operative checklists, standardizing the use of briefing tools, and improving staff training reduced error rates by half, the study found.
In addition, a blog post in the New York Times last week reported on another interesting research study (pdf) to be published in next month’s issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings; the paper found that “more than 40 percent of established practices studied were found to be ineffective or harmful, 38 percent beneficial, and the remaining 22 percent unknown.”
I can hardly wait until the BMJ Quality & Safety and Mayo Clinic Proceedings studies are compared to see how many equipment/technology surgical safety errors happen in conjunction with ineffective or harmful medical procedures.
Gold’s Gym Customers Hit By Billing Error
While not as traumatic as having your house repossessed, some customers of a Gold’s Gym in Palm Springs, Calif., were less than amused when they found out that a “computer glitch” in the electronic billing system the gym uses charged “thousands of dollars” to their credit card accounts early last week, a story at the Desert Sunreported. According to the Sun’s story, numerous members found they were charged anywhere from US $1500 to $7000 for their monthly membership fees. As a result, many of those gym members found their credit cards and for some, their bank accounts, reportedly overdrawn.
The software error, which originated at third-party Ohio-based credit card billing company Vanitiv, was rectified within a day. Vantiv said no money actually was charged; only a “preauthorization” charge (a hold) was put on the credit cards. Of course, the effect for the cardholder when trying to access his or her money is basically the same. Gold’s Gym says it will refund any bank fees incurred by customers due to the error.
Gold’s Gym wasn’t the only gym hit by Vantiv’s error. According to a story at television station WRAL in Raleigh, N.C., some members of Fitness Connections in that city discovered that credit and debit cards with which they paid their monthly fees had been hit with “preauthorization” charges in the thousands of dollars. The WRAL story says the problem was caused by Vantiv’s billing system dropping a decimal point which turned a US $29.90 monthly membership charge into a $2990 one instead.
Fitness Connection said it would also refund any customer bank fees incurred as a result.
Also of Interest…
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.