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Downside of online banking

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I've been banking online for over six years now and has never questioned that move. Even in the face of phishing, data leak snafus, and a host of other security issues, I have continued with it because I believe in its convenience and accuracy.

But a few days ago I found out that online banking, and in particular online bill pay, does have its drawbacks. A couple of months ago I received a parking ticket and being fastidious about paying bills on time, I made an online payment the next day and the matter was closed. Or so I thought.

Last week I received a rather threatening letter from that town's police department claiming that the ticket was unpaid. They had tacked on a penalty and a note that failure to pay would place my car in their impoundment list. Now I knew that I paid the ticket, so I went online to print out the cancelled check and send them the proof. Soon I found out that this payment was no longer in the system, apparently reaching its listing shelf life. Next I decided to lookup my monthly statement and see what I could recover from that. There was a vague line item indicating the deduction from my bank account, but surely this wasn't the type of proof I could send the police department.

It suddenly occurred to me that I had copies of all my deposited written checks provided as a part of the monthly statements, but the online payments were just single lines with mere reference numbers. No way those could ever be used as proofs of payment. Finally I called the bank and was passed from one Indian rep to another until I found the right one. They rep was amiable enough as he took the information and promised the copies to be sent to me and the police department the next day. I suppose he meant next week, because that's how long it took for my copy to arrive.

The cancelled check had both my car's plate number as well as the ticket number typed on the front. A close inspection revealed that the police department had a wrong ticket number on their delinquency system. In other words they had cashed the check and then failed to match the ticket number to the plate, hence the penalty notice. I suppose such follies from the police department could be expected. They probably have archaic systems in their offices, and why should they worry about accuracy for people's sake? It's not like they are in the customer service business. They can't care less about my problem.

But I was surprised at my bank (a large institution) for not providing such documents online. If we are being courted to use online bill pay, they should make it convenient for the customers to access their transactions online. Providing copies of all deposited checks online for a reasonable duration would be useful to that end.

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