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Natural gas customers charged twice

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By Jesef Williams

Many natural gas customers in Lancaster County were seeing double on their bank statements last week as a result of an electronic drafting error.

Officials with Lancaster County Natural Gas Authority say about 3,300 people were charged twice for services this month. The affected customers have payments automatically drawn from their bank accounts each month.

First Citizens Bank handles those ACH, or automatic clearinghouse, transactions for the gas authority.

LCNGA controller Rocky Hudson says the authority first realized the problem shortly after 8 a.m. Friday, when one of the affected customers called. Representatives at the office have fielded “several hundred” calls since that time, he said.

By lunchtime on Friday, First Citizens had reversed the transactions, Hudson said.

“This is the first time we’ve had this problem,” he said. “We’re still trying to determine what happened.”

The automatic drafts take place on the tenth day of each month. But for some reason, the exact amount on the customers’ respective bills was drafted again on Friday, the following day.

Christie Hill, chief marketing officer at First Citizens, is also unsure where the problem originated, but knows that it didn’t involve any type of fraud or security breach.

“This was more than likely a human error,” said Hill, who added that this occurrence is extremely rare. “The situation has been rectified, but we actually don’t know where the breakdown occurred.”

The authority will now take additional measures to ensure the double drafting doesn't happen again, said LCNGA general manager Tim Thornton. This includes enacting more verbal, telephonic and e-mail-based safeguards with First Citizens.

Officials with the authority and bank plan to meet Thursday to discuss what happened and ways to prevent it from happening again.

“We have an excellent working relationship with them,” Thornton said. “They've been very professional and good to work with with this issue we've had.”

Between 90 and 95 percent of the affected customers were residential. Hudson said the identical bill amount was drafted twice, except for about three or four cases where there was a difference in the amounts taken out.

Those customers are among about 18,000 residential and commercial establishments served by LCNGA, which serves most of Lancaster County.