US e-shops tough on 'fraudsters'

There is no official group of internet retailers in New Zealand that could pass around potentially fraudulent credit card numbers independent of the banks, says the Retail Merchants Association.

There is no official group of internet retailers in New Zealand that could pass around potentially fraudulent credit card numbers independent of the banks, says the Retail Merchants Association.

“They usually rely on a system that involves their bank,” says Paul Franken of the RMA.

In the US, however, it appears there is a semi-formal apparatus for sharing awareness of risk. It can be tough on a buyer suspected of fraud, who seems to have no right of appeal.

A reader has told Computerworld some of his recent internet transactions with US merchants were being rejected through more than one payment-processing intermediary, with obscure messages giving no indication of what the problem was. One message said: “For any one of a number of possible reasons, your transaction could not be processed”, while another accused him of committing “Error 74” – with no further details.

He checked with his bank to ensure his card balance and payments were in order. The bank officer checked a log and said there was no record of any attempt - successful or otherwise - to charge his card at the times he indicated. “We didn't reject it,” she said. He was referred to an investigator in another department, who candidly said, “Well that one’s got me flummoxed, I’m afraid.”

Several rounds of emails to the two US payment processors eventually brought the following reply from one: “There are a number of factors beyond our control that may prevent us from billing a credit card. For example, the card could be ‘blocked’ if it was ever involved in a billing dispute with an internet merchant or website. This is done to protect the cardholder and merchant from similar billing problems in the future. Unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do to make a rejected card ‘good’ again."

Computerworld found a notice on the website of a third US-based billing agent which indicates it will "blacklist" anyone who reclaims an allegedly fraudulent transaction, unless the reclamation is supported by appropriate evidence. "We may ask [the cardholder] to swear an affidavit," the organisation says.

But a buyer who suspects he or she may have been cheated by an internet merchant or credit-card thief could be putting themselves in the gun by getting the transaction reversed.

Staff of one US payment agent, contacted by phone, declined to name the body, if there is one, that passes around possibly delinquent numbers. “We can’t do anything about it [restoring the validity of the card],” said the customer service operator.

“So what can I do to get myself back to buying on the internet?” our reader asked. “I’d advise you to get another credit card, sir,” said the operator. Advice such as this appears to be at odds with the declared purpose of the reporting scheme.

The second payment agent also said “it is possible your card has been flagged and we can’t risk accepting it”. When our reader sent them details of the only transaction he’d disputed recently, the “block” came off. “I reckon they took a look and said ‘Oh them. we know those guys are sharks so he was probably justified; put him back on’,” our man said.

The first agent has still not reinstated him.

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