State: Suspicious activity partially to blame for appliance rebate overload

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by MARTIN BARTLETT / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on April 7, 2010 at 4:08 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 7 at 10:49 PM

AUSTIN -- Suspicious activity may have crashed a website which was part of the state’s rebate program for consumers who purchase energy efficient appliances. The phone lines associated with the program may have crashed because of genuine – yet overwhelming -- interest.

Texas customers were supposed to be able to sign-up for rebate coupons first thing on Wednesday morning.  Appliance stores were banking on it.

"We started notifying some of our customers are early as a month ago. We've done some promotional stuff. We put it up on our website. Pretty much anybody that walks through the door we've been telling,” said Hugh Suh, co-owner of Giant Appliance Center in North Austin.

Just minutes after going live, overwhelmed phone lines and computers crashed. The Texas Comptroller's Office initially thought it was caused by the popularly of the program.

"Between about 7 and 9 this morning we got about 14 million hits to the reservation gateway, so that gives you an indication about the online traffic,” said Spokesman R.J. de Silva.

According to documents uncovered by KVUE, the state paid $875,000 to a Minnesota company to run the website and phone lines.

The company has since told the comptroller's office that 75 percent of all the Web site hits were generated by a single "suspicious" IP address.

There was no suspicious activity reported among phone users -- the comptroller’s office thinks operators were simply overwhelmed.

The company added more operators after the morning rush.

Many viewers e-mailed KVUE, hot about their bad experience.

Late in the morning, “Debra” wrote: “I -- and obviously thousands of others -- have been trying since 7a.m.”

After six hours of trying, “Eddie” just gave up, saying, "Frankly to keep my sanity, it is just not worth it."

The rebate coupons from the state were all gone by 3 o’clock Wednesday afternoon.

Another chance to same money will come in May: the state won't collect sales tax on certain Energy Star-rated appliances purchased over the Memorial Day weekend.

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