Of course, if I'd had any idea that PayTrust was in the middle, proxying the payment, I would have called it instead of my bank. When PayTrust sends a paper check in my name, that check is written against my checking account, and the funds are transferred as if I'd written the check myself. Perhaps naively, I had assumed that electronic payments functioned in the same way. They do not. In this case, PayTrust paid the power company, and then debited my account for the same amount displaying the source of the transaction as my power company. From my point of view, the money went from my account to the power company, and not to a middleman. Of course, later that day, PayTrust sent its monthly service bill. I wonder if that one will get automatically paid.
When you see the debit on the account with a destination of the power company, it's certainly not obvious that you'd have to call anyone else. As it stands now, I've had to reimburse PayTrust for the entire amount, then try to coordinate with the power company to get the double payment refunded to me via paper check. This presented another issue, since PayTrust sent the payment. I had to call PayTrust and the billing department at the power company and conference the two together to get a payment confirmation sent, which will take at least another day to process, and then it'll be another week at least before I receive the refund check. It all seems very fragile and poorly implemented. I wasn't aware, for instance, that it was so easy to masquerade the actual destination of a payment. Hmmm.
The main problem here is that the systems in place to handle electronic transactions of this nature need major reform. The current reality of receiving an assortment of paper and electronic bills, problems with mailing vs. billing addresses, and the ever-present issue of identity theft presents a challenge to anyone who dares put down the accordion file and try to manage their finances electronically -- which was one of the primary goals of the computer in the first place.
Most bill-paying services like PayTrust and finance tools like Mint.com are still scraping pages to get the data they need, which is highly error prone and a poor way to achieve the goal of data collection. As far as the back end of these tools go, we're still in the dark ages.