Possible security breach prompts RRHA to suspend convenience store payment sites

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/15/2017, 6:14 a.m.
For the past few years, Lillie Estes has gone to a Richmond convenience store to pay the rent on her ...

For the past few years, Lillie Estes has gone to a Richmond convenience store to pay the rent on her Gilpin Court apartment.

But Monday, she found that her landlord, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, had ended that convenience.

“RRHA is supposed to give us 30 days notice. They didn’t do that. Instead, they just shut down the service,” said Ms. Estes, one of thousands of affected tenants.

“I learned about it after I stood in line at the store, only to be told my money could not be accepted,” said Ms. Estes, a well-known community activist and co-founder of RePHRAME, Residents of Public Housing in Richmond Against Mass Eviction.

An RRHA official said the agency was forced to shut down the service after a possible security breach, according to Carol Jones-Gilbert, RRHA’s chief operating officer.

In response to a Free Press query, Ms. Jones-Gilbert stated that RRHA was notified that Global Express, the money transfer company used by the convenience stores, suspended acceptance of all rental payments until further notice because of a security issue. No payments have been accepted since Friday, Nov. 10.

The convenience stores use Global Express to transmit the payments to RRHA.

She cited a press release from PayPal, which ordered the shutdown after finding the information was not secure. PayPal is the parent company of the payment processor.

The release states that the shutdown was a precaution and that no information had been hacked because of the security flaws that the company is working to fix.

Ms. Jones-Gilbert stated that residents “have been advised that payments would need to be mailed to the RRHA lockbox until the matter is resolved.”

However, that explanation was not shared with tenants, Ms. Estes said.

Ms. Jones-Gilbert stated that “RRHA has agreed to extend the grace period from the 8th until the 15th to allow for additional mailing time.”

She added that RRHA “is in communication with Global Express regarding a resolution and will explore alternate payment options should the issue persist.” 

A few years ago, RRHA faced harsh criticism for refusing to accept rent payments at its management offices and, instead, requiring tenants to mail rent payments to a Baltimore post office box for servicing by a bank there. Tenants often were hit with late charges when their rent arrived late due to delays in mailing.

At the time, RRHA claimed that it could not find a Richmond bank to handle the collection and servicing of the rent payments.

However, after continuing protests from RePHRAME, RRHA opened a Richmond post office box and secured agreements from five locally owned convenience stores that use Global Express to accept rent payments, just as they do utility and phone payments.