Another “Phantom Menace:” Contactless Charges

This is a follow up on a couple of recent items we’ve had here lately, about security not only in an age of mobile technology, but security in an age where information between devices can be transferred with a literal “touch,” or “bump.”

However, merchants should note that this particular story, from the UK, doesn’t involve deliberate “hacking” into someone’s virtual wallet, but rather, “phantom charges” run up by the merchants — or at least, their wireless card readers — instead.

As reported by, “according to This Is Money, customers all over the UK have been reporting accidental payments being charged on their contactless debit or credit cards without knowing.”

The article noted that shoppers at upscale Marks & Spencer “complained they were being charged, even when standing over a foot away from the reader. Consumers dining at the café chain Pret A Manager also claimed they noticed unauthorized charges on contactless accounts.

The story also made into UK’s Guardian, which reported “that several hundred Londoners complained bus fares were being taken from their contactless cards while they were swiping their Oyster cards.” (A card used for riding transit).

While the charges were not usually huge — just over two bucks American, in the case of the transit fees — since the UK has over 200,000 similar “contactless” terminals, at places ranging from the post office to various Starbucks, it’s a problem that can hopefully be addressed before such charge methods continue to grow in popularity.

“Customer reports regarding charge errors have been extremely low up until recently.,” the article notes. However, much of the advice dispensed on avoiding such phantom charges is aimed more at consumers, rather than any rethinking of reader technology. The Guardian says that “the Transport for London has told travelers to store Oyster cards and contactless cards in separate wallets or purses. This will help to avoid clashing unwanted cards near the NFC reader.”

Consumers were complaining that they often didn’t know they even had contactless accounts, but were given them with an account upgrade, new card, etc. “Retailers and banks have insisted,” the article concludes, that “the problem is not the technology’s fault, but until the system is improved shoppers should stay alert.”

As contactless charge readers become more prevalent, along with the use of phones, in particular, as charge “cards,” merchants should also consider how to keep advising customers to avoid accidental “swipes,” be aware of placement of such readers in their physical stores, etc.

And, of course, be ready to listen to customers should ghostly, “phantom” charges show up on their account!

That said, the phrase “charge it!,” will continue to mean new things, and AVPS is ready to help you keep transitioning into the future of digital transactions. From increased security to mobile processing and more, contact your rep today. No phantoms here — just friendly help!

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