Thursday, November 3, 2011

WMATA's SmarTrip Machines Offer Potential for Loss and Fraud

Here are the instructions from the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) website for topping up SmarTrip farecards:

"1. Go to a Passes/Farecards machine, located at the entrance of every Metrorail station.

2. Touch your SmarTrip® card to the circular target.

3. Follow the prompts on the screen.

4. Insert a) money or tokens, b) a used farecard or Metrochek valued less than $7 or c) an unused farecard or Metrochek of any value. If you have more than one farecard or Metrochek, each will require a separate transaction. You may also use your Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express or ATM card.

5. Press the plus (+) or minus (-) button until the amount displayed is the new value you want your SmarTrip® card to have. The added value cannot be less than the trade-in value of the Metrochek or farecard.

6. Touch the SmarTrip® card to the circular target a final time. This updates the card and shows the new balance."

Here's the problem. One of the prompts in "3. Follow the prompts on the screen" above is "Add Value." We discovered--by accident--that if a first SmarTrip user initiates this top up process but leaves the machine with the "Add Value" prompt on the screen, and a second SmarTrip user arrives, presses "Add Value," inserts money, and then touches the circular target with his or her card, the money remains in the machine but the transaction is cancelled.

Does the money go to the first person's card--a fraud opportunity--or does it simply end up in WMATA's account? We don't know. The good news is that we filled out a fare adjustment form which the station manager signed, and when we called the fare adjustment phone number a week later, were were cheerfully informed that the funds were now available for transfer to our SmarTrip card the next time we went by a Metro Station.

It was clear from discussions with the station manager and the agent on the phone that ours was not an isolated experience. However, as far as these WMATA employees seem to know, nothing is being done to eliminate this problem.