Bamboozled: A double dose of aggravation

Home deliveries are very convenient.

Cathy and Joe Grzybowski have been using a delivery service for prescription medications from CVS Caremark for more than two years.

The retired Linden couple’s latest prescription order was a mess. While they did receive the correct medication, their payment experience caused more than $350 — above and beyond what they owed for the medication — to be temporarily unavailable from their checking account for five days.

Here’s what happened.


At the start of the new year, Joe Grzybowski needed a refill on his prescription for Nexium, a heartburn relief medication.

On Jan. 8, Cathy Grzybowski placed the order through CVS Caremark via telephone, as she always does.

It’s the beginning of a new year, so that meant new deductibles under their insurance plan.

Grzybowski authorized a charge of $354.95 on her debit card, which was on file with CVS Caremark. Everything seemed to be in order.

An efficient home banker, Grzybowski called her bank’s 800-number the next day to see if the charge was posted.

“I usually call the automated system every day to see what checks have come in and I deliberately called to see if [CVS Caremark] had posted the charge,” she said. “All of a sudden, I’m supposed to have $700-something and it tells me I have $27 and change.”

Grzybowski headed to the bank. The rep explained there were two holds on her account from CVS Caremark: the one she authorized for $354.95, and a second one for $354.97.

“The bank girl said to me it’s probably a mistake but they caught it, and that’s why it’s still pending,” she said.

When Grzybowski returned home, she called CVS Caremark and spoke to a rep named “Sophia.”

“She told me this is now their practice, that they hold double the amount. I said, ‘No, I only authorized $354.95 to be out of my account.’ She said, `No, we started this — I can’t remember if it was the end of November or the start of December — and we place a hold for two times the amount to make sure we get paid,’” Grzybowski said she was told. “That really pissed me off.”

Grzybowski had authorized only one charge, and the second amount was different by two pennies.

The day the double-hold was posted, Grzybowski had planned to go to the supermarket, expecting to have at least $360 in her checking account.

“I would have been so embarrassed if I swiped my debit card and it was denied. I would have been mortified,” she said.

What if she had a check outstanding that was for more than the $27 remaining in her account? It would have bounced and/or she could have incurred overdraft charges.

She asked to speak to a CVS Caremark supervisor.

“She said the same thing. This is now their practice, that they double charge so they can guarantee the charge will clear,” Grzybowski said.

She said she asked the supervisor when the second hold would come off the account, and the supervisor said it would be after the prescription was mailed. Grzybowski asked when that would be, but the supervisor didn’t have an answer.

“In this economy, people are hurting. How can they do this?” Grzybowski said. “We’re not talking $30. We’re talking an extra $350!”

That’s when she reached out to Bamboozled.


We had never heard of an intentional double hold on a debit card, so while we waited for an answer from CVS Caremark, we asked around.

It’s common for merchants to put a hold on an account for pending charges, and businesses such as restaurants may put a slightly higher hold in case a tip is added to the bill, said Linda Sherry, spokeswoman for Consumer Action, a non-profit consumer advocacy group.

She said she didn’t know of any law that restricts holds, but the one described by Grzybowski is “just not right.”

“That is piggishness and it’s very harmful to the consumer, especially the consumer who lives paycheck to paycheck,” Sherry said. “It’s one thing if they take a hold for what you expect the transaction to be or maybe a little more, but it should never be double. It’s just wrong.”

Grzybowski monitored her checking account daily to see when the funds would be released.

On Jan. 11, the charge for $354.97 — the one that was two cents higher — cleared, but there was still a hold on the $354.95.

The next day — day five of the hold — Bamboozled heard back from CVS Caremark.

CVS Caremark’s policy is to implement a pre-authorization or hold for the amount to be billed when using a credit or debit card, said spokeswoman Christine Cramer.

“In this instance, the initial hold amount was actually reversed within our system shortly after it was placed as it was for an incorrect amount, and a new authorization for the correct amount was submitted,” she said. “Unfortunately in this instance it appears that the bank did not also reverse the initial hold immediately.”

That’s exactly what the customer thought happened at first — that one of the charges was an error — but why then would two telephone reps tell the customer it was the company’s new policy to hold twice the amount?

“The policy is not changed,” Cramer said after we asked and re-asked the question several times. “There was a miscommunication, we are addressing this with our team.”

She didn’t answer why no one contacted Grzybowski to authorize the corrected amount, but Cramer said someone from customer care would reach out to the customer.

Later that day, the hold finally came off of Grzybowski’s checking account, and four days after that, she received a call from the company.

“[The initial reps] are going to be talked to because they misunderstood the new procedure that they do, which is putting on a hold for the dollar amount until they go through the insurance to make sure that we’re covered,” she said she was told. “On the two holds, they came up with a big song and dance that it was the bank’s fault.”

Not quite believing that explanation, Grzybowski returned to the bank to ask.

“They don’t have a record of CVS saying to reverse the hold,” she said.

Grzybowski said despite the mishap, she’s going to give the service one more try.

“I’d like to know what kind of miscommunication caused two employees — including one supervisor — to quote a `policy change’ that CVS Caremark says doesn’t exist,” she said.