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She returned textbook late; then Amazon charged father $3.8K

William Bender
Philadelphia Inquirer
Amazon withdrew nearly $4,000 from the account of a student's father after the student was a few days late returning a rented textbook to the online retailer.

Amazon.com Inc. tells customers that renting textbooks instead of buying them can save up to 80% off the purchase price:

“Get your textbooks delivered to your door and save both time and money.”

What Amelia SanFilippo, a thrifty college freshman, wasn’t expecting was that the Seattle-based online retailer would withdraw nearly $4,000 from her father’s checking account because she was a few days late returning the book.

Amazon is not your local library branch.

In February, SanFilippo, 19, a cognitive science major, used her father’s debit card to rent “Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age” for the spring semester at the University of Delaware. Cost $62.70.

The book was due back June 24. She had asked her father, Anthony, to mail it for her. But it slipped his mind while he was packing for a week-long trip. On June 28, she received an email from Amazon with the subject line: “Your Amazon.com rental has been purchased.”

“The item is now yours to keep,” the email stated.

Cost: $3,800.60 — more than 30 times the price of the textbook.

“I was shocked,” she said. “That’s a big chunk of change, especially when the book is $100 to buy.”

When she called her father in a panic the next day, he told her not to worry. They’d never actually charge him that amount, and he’d be home in Springfield, Delaware County, in a day and would return the book then.

“So imagine my surprise when I went to the ATM on Saturday night and saw there was a large sum of money missing,” Anthony SanFilippo said.

SanFilippo, a writer for a political marketing firm, called Amazon customer service on Sunday, assuming it would recognize the $3,800 mistake and correct it. But company representatives refused to refund the money until they received the book. He’d shipped it that day and gave them a UPS tracking number.

“That wasn’t good enough for them,” he said.

Amazon asked the SanFilippos to email photographic evidence the book had been shipped back. But their emails to that address all bounced back. That email address did not accept incoming messages, it said.

SanFilippo then turned to his bank to dispute the charge, but had no luck. The following morning, July 2, the $3,800 pending transaction cleared and the money was officially gone from his account.

Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, SanFilippo checked his bank account balance and saw that $3,800.60 had been returned.

He never got an explanation from Amazon. But his daughter found an Amazon email from February, when she’d first rented the book. Sure enough, the “buyout” price was listed as $3,831.40.

Contacted Wednesday by The Inquirer, Amazon declined to explain how that number was determined.

“This was an error that we quickly resolved directly with the customer, and we have issued a refund,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

The spokesperson requested anonymity.