In the first few weeks of the school year, some Saint Mary’s students who purchased books at the Shaheen Bookstore noticed charges on their bank card statements from “ACU Bookstore.”
The issue stemmed from the college transitioning from Follette, its former bookstore partner, to Barnes and Noble College (BNC), Dana Strait, Saint Mary’s vice president for strategy and finance, said in an email.
“BNC launched its new website on August 1 for the Saint Mary’s community,” Strait wrote. “Several students and their families who used the website prior to move-in for electronic course material rentals and purchases noticed charges on their bank card statements under the name of a different bookstore (ACU Bookstore).”
ACU, she added, refers to Abilene Christian University, which sources all of BNC’s digital course materials.
“20 to 30 students reported similar, confusing charges,” Strait wrote, and BNC was able to quickly remedy the issue after looking into it.
Not knowing any of this information, however, students were initially confused.
“I got a text from my bank, Chase, and they said that someone tried to spend $200 from like ACU or something,” senior Kate Murray said.
Junior Luann Hernandez-Montano said her books were paid off by a scholarship, but she had to put her card information anyway.
“It did say to plug in the credit card information or debit card information just to be able to rent out the books,” she said.
Hernandez-Montano was intially a bit surprised to see a $1 charge from ACU Bookstore even though she hadn’t actually spent money through her card.
“Then I kind of just didn’t really pay attention to it, and so I saw it was only $1, so I was kind of confused about it at first.”
This, Strait wrote, is standard procedure for when a student rents materials from bookstores.
“When students rent electronic course materials, bookstores place small holds, in this case in an amount of $1,” Strait wrote. “The Saint Mary’s bookstore has always done this, even with our previous partners, as do the bookstores of our neighboring campuses.”
Confusion swirls over Facebook
Worry over the labeling issue, however, snowballed Aug. 24 as students took to the “SMC Buying/ Selling Textbooks and Materials” private Facebook group.
Senior Grace Paciga opened up a thread in the group because of worrisome activity she noticed in her account.
“Hi so just a heads up – I just got a fraud alert on my card for $880 and we are pretty sure its from the bookstore,” Paciga wrote to the Facebook group. “So if you used your debit/credit card at the bookstore recently I would be sure to check your charges!!! Or just don’t use your card there.”
Paciga said she immediately sent the alert to her parents, who both have worked at banks “for over 25 years.”
Her card’s charges, she said, showed a $1 charge from ACU Bookstore in Texas followed by a $0 charge from “Brix Wine and Spirits” in Loveland, Colorado.
“We think it was they were testing out the card at another place to see if it would go through,” she said. “And then after that came the Walmart.com (charge) for $880.02 in Bentonville, Arkansas. So, three different states, which was actually pretty crazy,” Paciga said.
After speaking with her parents, she wrote her post to the Facebook group in order to see if other students were experiencing similar issues.
“I didn’t know if it was happening to anyone else because I hadn’t used my card anywhere besides that bookstore purchase for like the week before,” Paciga said.
When she wrote to the group, her post received 18 comments from other students reporting confusing activity in their accounts.
Many students reading the page, including Hernandez-Montano, canceled their bank cards out of fear that they would also have their information stolen.
“I saw other girls posting about it, and there’s other girls that are saying, ‘Oh, they took like 800,’” Hernandez-Montano said. “So I was just being precautious, and I actually went to cancel my card at the bank.”
Many students have reported the confusing “ACU Bookstore” name on their bank card statements to both Saint Mary’s and The Observer, but Paciga is the only person who reported activity that included her card being used elsewhere. Paciga’s unauthorized charges did not appear under the “ACU Bookstore” label.
College director of public relations Lisa Knox said that the bookstore credit card confusion involved only an incorrect label and not an incorrect amount charged.
“The charges were correct, it was only the name that was wrong,” Knox said.
Hernandez-Montano said she would have liked more information from the school about what was happening with the issue because most of what she heard came from the Facebook group.
“I think the school could have done, like, a little bit better in trying to inform everybody about it,” Hernandez-Montano said.
Paciga was less frustrated with the college. “I feel like they handled it as best as they could,” she said. “I think it was just a difficult situation.”
Strait wrote that BNC worked to resolve the naming issue as soon as they knew there was one.
“Unfortunately, the bookstore was not made aware of the ACU label until weeks after the website opened for course material purchases,” Strait wrote. “An explanation was immediately posted by Student Affairs staff on social media.”
Contact Liam Price at firstname.lastname@example.org