Toronto

Toronto business owner loses $14K to technical glitch at mobile payment company

A glitch in the popular Square payment technology is causing financial headaches for some of the company’s users, CBC News has learned. Square won’t say how widespread the issue is, or how many customers have been affected but the company concedes it's not a "one-off."

It’s not a 'one-off' situation, Square concedes

Monica Mustelier owns Toronto's Little Havana mobile coffee shop. She says payments made through Square were not reaching her bank account. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

A glitch in the popular Square payment technology is causing financial headaches for some of the company's users, CBC News has learned.

The tech company won't say how widespread the issue is, or how many customers have been affected.

"I can't say this is widespread. I can't say it's a one-off," Valerie Jackson, Square Canada's communications manager, told CBC News.

Square runs a mobile payment system that allows customers to tap or swipe their credit or debit cards to pay for purchases. It's particularly popular with small businesses like coffee shops. 

The tech company then transfers the money to a business owner's bank account.

A small business owner in Toronto processed more than $14,000 in sales through Square that never made it into her TD Canada Trust bank account.

'I want them to fix it'

"I want them to fix it and I want our $14,000," said Monica Mustelier, co-owner of the Little Havana mobile coffee stand.

For the past three years, Moustelier used Square without any problems. 

But on Aug. 26, she started to notice thousands of dollars in sales revenue weren't being transferred as expected. 

"It's been really frustrating because I've been spending at least two to three hours every day going between Square and TD when I could actually be drumming up business for us," Mustelier said.

It's currently 'cash only' at the Little Havana mobile coffee stand. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

Fearing more money might go missing, Mustelier says she's stopped using Square and is accepting cash-only payments from the dozens of daily customers who visit her business.

"I would say at least 80 per cent of our customers use cards — credit cards or debit cards — and we've lost a lot of business because of that," she told CBC News.

'Acquiring processor' to blame

After a month of calls to both Square and their bank, the problem was still unresolved, according to Mustelier.

"Where that money is, is a really great question," she said.

Last week, after CBC News reached out to Square, the funds were located. 

In an email to Mustelier, Square's customer service department told her, "Your deposits have been delayed with Square's acquiring processor." 

"Rest assured, we are continuing to do everything we can to gain additional insight and we are advocating for the fastest possible resolution," the email continued.

No further explanation was given. The $14,000 still hasn't been returned to Mustelier.

'We just trust technology'

Professor Ramona Pringle, a tech expert and director of Ryerson University's Transmedia Zone, says the situation is a cautionary tale as business owners and consumers rely heavily on technology.

"The bigger conversations we're having right now about tech in general these days involve transparency and accountability," she said.

"We need to be able to see inside these black boxes. Right now everything is so proprietary and we just trust the technology, yet sometimes things can go wrong," Pringle added.

Ryerson University professor Ramona Pringle says businesses and their customers put a lot of trust in technology but the people 'creating these tools need to be designing for not just how we disrupt industries, but also how problems can be solved when things go wrong.' (David Leyes © 2018)

"There needs to be answers for the customer. The people creating these tools need to be designing for not just how we disrupt industries, but also how problems can be solved when things go wrong."

Jackson, Square's communications manager, wouldn't elaborate on what exactly did go wrong.

However, she says Square is working to get Mustelier's money back to her.

"I can assure you we are doing everything we can to resolve this as quickly as possible. It's not right the money is not with [Mustelier]" she said

Mustelier says if she gets her money back soon, she'll continue to use the technology.

"I really like it. But I'm a little tentative," she said.

About the Author

John Lancaster

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

John Lancaster is a senior reporter with CBC News focusing on investigative and enterprise journalism. His stories have taken him across Canada, the US and the Caribbean. His reports have appeared on CBC Toronto, The National, CBC's Marketplace, The Fifth Estate-and of course CBC online and radio. Drop him a line anytime at john.lancaster@cbc.ca.

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