The $10,000 Taco

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — How many tacos can you buy for $10,000? This week at a Del Taco in Santa Paula, Calif. the answer turned out to be three, maybe four, and a side of guacamole.

According to the Associated Press, last week approximately 150 customers at the southern California location of the popular restaurant chain ended up getting charged thousands of dollars for their meals when something went wrong with debit and credit card transactions.

It appears that the error multiplied the value of orders by 100. Customer Dino DeLaO reported to the AP that when his wife ordered a $10.20 meal, they ended up paying $10,200, while Austin Dillon, another customer, spent $4.26 and paid $4,260.

By way of comparison, a taco at Del Taco costs $1.70 plus tax.

The cause of the technical problem remains unknown, but it was restricted to the one Del Taco location. According to a spokesman, the company has contacted the banks involved and will make sure that all charges get refunded.

Unfortunately, merely refunding the world's most expensive taco platter can't necessarily solve everything.

An overdrawn checking account causes real problems and expense even if the original withdrawal is unwound. Not only does that thousand dollar taco come with overdraft fees, but the bank will impose overdraft charges on every transaction after the customer's checking account hits zero.

Making matters worse, most banks prioritize large spending. On a list of pending charges from the past week, many of the effected customers will see their account first cleaned out by a steak burrito, followed by $25 to $35 charges for every other debit card transaction regardless of when those transactions actually took place. As long as they all exist in the pending transaction queue simultaneously, the bank can apply charges in whatever order it chooses, and many attempt to maximize fees.

Anyone who depends on timed payments for sensitive matters such as mortgages, credit cards or insurance premiums could also risk negative reports on his credit rating if he didn't catch the error in time. Pending checks could also bounce, as one customer reported experiencing when his mortgage payment failed to clear.

Del Taco has released no information regarding if or how it will compensate consumers for all the fallout from this error; however, a customer's first line of defense should always be his or her bank. Anyone who experiences mistaken charges like this should first report the problem to his bank or credit card and get the money refunded immediately. Waiting for a company to sort out its debts will take time, which few people have to spare when a quesadilla has plunged their bank account into a $10,000 hole.

--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.

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