back to article Mastercard goes TITSUP in US, UK: There are some things money can't buy – like uptime

Register readers, and quite a few other people, have been left with dead credit cards after Mastercard's payment system took a dive on Thursday. "Mastercard went down this evening," one Reg reader, based in Britain, told us privately. "Couldn’t pay for petrol. It’s a disgrace you can’t trust cards to pay when you need them to …

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Cashless society

    No, I don't think so. Notes and cans of tuna are real currency.

    You'd better stockpile cans before the government does, if the press is to believed.

    1. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Cashless society

      I work in retail and at the store I was at last night somebody asked me if there was an issue with our card payments system. I said "don't thknk so" because I'd just watched a relatively high value Visa transaction go through without a hitch. That was with the card present in the showroom and proved my cabling work hadn't killed the PDQ machine connectivity. However it wasn't working for the staff member trying to take a customer payment over the phone. I'll check today whether that was a MasterCard or not. Customer was unfazed and said they'd pay by bank transfer after their card was declined.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Cashless society

      Notes and cans of tuna are real currency

      My cats don't accept notes..

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cashless society

      I already have a stockpile of cans of tuna (and other stuff), but cash probably won't help unless its in the form of about 0/25Kg of small change in a sock. In which case it could be used as a weapon.

      BTW, some of my cans of tuna have been in the cupboard for a while. If it has a BBE date of May 2017, at what point does it become unsafe to eat?

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Cashless society

        "BTW, some of my cans of tuna have been in the cupboard for a while. If it has a BBE date of May 2017, at what point does it become unsafe to eat?"

        Most canned items are good for much longer than the BBE date. If the can isn't bulged out and when you open it, it isn't a bit whiff, chances are that it's fine. I don't have a link, but there are some good guidelines online about what foods are safest to use past date and what the real world figures are for stored tins of different foods. I'd expect that if the tuna was off, it would be pretty obvious.

  2. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    It's a Full House!

    Flush with success, our intrepid reporter attempted to buy a round. On the river, as ever. The turn, flopped and the measure missed. However, wit and judgement saved the day, it's known I'm led to believe as the whip hand. #justcountingthehouseofcards #tintinout

  3. Ambivalous Crowboard

    Backups and redundancy, FFS

    And I'm not talking to the payment providers.

    Seriously people, it's 2018 and you're not carrying more than one (type of) credit/debit card around with you? Stop shitposting on twitter, hoping to get quoted by BuzzFeed, and get your own house in order - for one, make sure that no one single company can screw you over just because their service takes a lie-down.

    Remember, the only thing preventing $bad_situation from happening, nowadays, is someone else's code - so build your own escape plan!

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

      I always carry £100 cash in a separate compartment for circumstances just like this. Don't want to fill up with fuel and find the card payment system is down; or get stuck at a checkout with a load of groceries etc. I've only had to raid the "backup" a few of times over the years, but it has been worth keeping for those unexpected "cash only" circumstances.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

        "I always carry £100 cash in a separate compartment for circumstances just like this."

        I usually pay cash - but carry a credit card as a back up. One day I gave all my notes to a charity collection. In the Waitrose supermarket I then used the credit card - but the reader kept failing to recognise it. I enquired what the manual emergency process was. The answer was that there wasn't one.

        Eventually it did read it - but a few days later I noticed that till was having the same problem with another customer. I went to the customer services desk and suggested they needed some maintenance. They told me they could only call in the engineer if it failed completely.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

          Not so long ago the emergency backup process was the old style carbon-paper slips and rollover machines. Recently visited a Shell/Waitrose newly revamped on opening day and system was TITSUP. Guess what, not only did they have none of these but staff looked at me like I was an alien when I mentioned them.

          Analogue backup methods should be mandatory (especially as the FCA just told the banks their systems WOULD fail sometime and they ought to plan for it. No shit, Sherlock.)

          1. Phil Kingston Silver badge

            Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

            Is cash the analogue backup method?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              analogue backup

              No, chickens (or for large amounts) a cow.

              Seriously for many year in Italy (it the time of the Lira) sweets were given as small change

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: analogue backup

                "Seriously for many year in Italy (it the time of the Lira) sweets were given as small change"

                That was due to lack of coins in circulation ... I remember holidays in Italy as a child when there were want amounted to 10p notes in circulation ... these had no legal standing but amounted to IOUs issued by shops which everyone started accepting as cash. (Interestingly I think a more "official" version of this sort of scheme is what the new Italian government seem to be thinking about as a way to escape from the Euro without having to actually leave it)

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: analogue backup

                  "That was due to lack of coins i"

                  In Sweden in the 1970s they appeared to have phased out the 1 and 2 öre small change coins. The shops still priced things to that resolution - and then usually rounded down the total to the nearest 5 öre.

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: analogue backup

                  "when there were want amounted"

                  Dictating again?

                3. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: analogue backup

                  "That was due to lack of coins in circulation ... "

                  Yep. That made it difficult to get a ferry home late at night in Venice. Didn't make that mistake again.

              2. Wensleydale Cheese

                Re: analogue backup

                "Seriously for many year in Italy (it the time of the Lira) sweets were given as small change"

                In the early 80s I lived near one of the main European trunk roads, and at petrol stations it was quite common to get small change in a mixture of other currencies.

                Dutch and Belgian operated cross-Channel ferries would allow you to pay for stuff in multiple currencies, so I offloaded my accumulated mixture of small change on those.

          2. kain preacher Silver badge

            Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

            The reason why they don't use paper slips any more is cause the baster CC companies started processing them as a credit card not present . If find a processor that does not charge them as credit card not present you get hit with higher fees. Then you have less protection from charge back. Oh wants it gets processed and the card gets decline you most likely will not get paid . So most places rather lose a customer/sale then risk getting burned like that .

            1. whileI'mhere

              Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

              Did you dictate that using some voice to text thingy? I can only assume that "wants" was meant to be "once", and as for a "baster" (turkey baster?) CC company, my mind boggles.

          3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

            Not so long ago the emergency backup process was the old style carbon-paper slips and rollover machines

            .. which pushes back the liability for fraudulent card use onto the retailer. So, understandably, most places won't use it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

              When the CC company's systems are on the floor with legs pointing upward, the question of liability perhaps becomes a bit moot. The CC companies really ought to be able to say 'system's down, use the slips and we'll cover it' but of course, late-stage capitalism means 'sod the customers (retailers), sod the consumers, and who cares if our reputation gets a bit soiled and we lose a tad of revenue, we're not taking any responsibility for anything that we can shove on to anyone else'

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

            Last encountered a carbon paper credit card machine 2 or 3 years ago .. had taken my son to a fencing torunament at Birmingham University and was buying some equipement for him from Leon Paul stand there ... they had (doubtless from past experience) brought the manual carbon paper machines as there was no chance of modern electroniic machines getting the required mobile signal needed to authorise payments from the middle of the lower floor of the large concrete wall/floored sports centre!

        2. Velv Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

          “They told me they could only call in the engineer if it failed completely.”

          Yanks cable.

          “Oops”

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

          " a few days later I noticed that till was having the same problem with another customer. I went to the customer services desk and suggested they needed some maintenance. They told me they could only call in the engineer if it failed completely."

          Very much "computer says no" mentality and I'd be asking to speak to the duty manager, then escalating up the food chain - or would have done except that the standard british customer service mentality is "fuck off"

          Funnily enough, going on Twitter and naming names has an interesting way of getting things fixed, fast.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

        "I always carry £100 cash in a separate compartment for circumstances just like this."

        I do the same thing, Especially for longer trips out of town. That way I know I have dosh for petrol (if I'm driving) and some money for meals.

        A friend of mine had an embarrassing moment when his deadbeat wife got a credit card sent to her on his business credit account and went on a big shop. He happened to be entertaining clients when his card was declined as over limit. I can't remember exactly how he resolved that at the time (other than the divorce which wasn't his idea).

        Digital currency and payment methods can go titsup at any moment for hours or permanently. Having cash on hand is an easy insurance policy. Get a safe and then stash some backup elsewhere in the house (make the safe not too hard to find. Bottom of the wardrobe or someplace like that). If anybody breaks in, they may just nick the safe thinking thinking they've got all of the best goodies.

        Lastly, it's much easier to stay on budget if you do your daily transactions in cash. Decide what you can spend each day for misc. stuff and only put that much cash in you pocket. Also, get a separate bank account to receive pay deposits and for what you may use to pay bills online then leave the debit card for that account put away at home. Use a secondary account that you top of from time to time to have a debit card you can carry around. If you get jacked up and forced to get cash from an ATM, you won't be risking your main account. You also can't make an impulse buy for too much without having to make a bigger effort in accessing your funds. Cash doesn't take electricity or a network to work.

    2. Halcin

      Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

      Stop blaming the customer for the failings of the systems/software. It's not down to users fix the issue, it's down to the providers/developers/management.

      If you want customers (your paymasters) to continue using your solution (and paying your wage) then you fix the problems your solution creates.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

        Stop blaming the customer for the failings of the systems/software.

        This is not a perfect world and things go wrong. People have car insurance, home insurance, and life insurance so why shouldn't they have another card and a bit of cash just in case?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

      I agree that it genuinely could be useful to have both a Visa card and a MasterCard (EuroCard got assimilated, unfortunately), but Visa cards are far more common!

      I don’t understand why MasterCard spend a small fortune on (fairly amusing) tv adverts, when it’s not people who are their customers, it’s the banks! And most banks in the UK choose to issue Visa cards, so...

      1. pmitham

        Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

        MC spend a lot on advertising because they have the marketshare and want to keep it. I almost never see anyone use a VISA card anymore, and more and more stores won't take AMEX because of the high merchant fees. But its good to carry cards of different types for just such an "emergency"

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

          Amex is good for travel and entertaining. Because of the higher fees AmEx charges, cardholders get more perks and service. If you travel a lot for work, having an AmEx card might be better than V/MC.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

      "Seriously people, it's 2018 and you're not carrying more than one (type of) credit/debit card around with you?"

      I did, and then most of the providers dropped MasterCard and converted them into Visa cards ...

      1. VinceH

        Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

        "I did, and then most of the providers dropped MasterCard and converted them into Visa cards"

        Why on Earth has someone downvoted that? From my experience, what AC said there is true. I have quite a few cards - they were a mix of different banks and spread between Visa and Mastercard. Now only one is Mastercard. (For example, the one attached to my main personal bank account was originally a Mastercard and was replaced with a Visa when the bank switched.)

    5. xpz393

      Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

      Considering the majority of Reg readers are supposedly from a technical/systems background, I’m surprised that downvotes outweigh the upvotes on this one...

      We know that 100% uptime is BS, so if you can’t be ars*d to implement a simple fallback solution, stop whinging.

      Similar to the OP, my primary bank issues Visa only cards. So, I also have a MasterCard from another provider as a fallback for *when* the Visa or my bank’s own systems fail. Costs me nothing (no annual fee), and is a simple solution to avoid the drama.

      Avoid the drama, folks xx

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

        A single point of failure at a checkout is the card reader - irrespective of who issued the card. They appear to be hand-held devices attached by an umbilical cord. Is it not possible to plug in a spare when one fails to read cards?

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

          "Is it not possible to plug in a spare when one fails to read cards?"

          They have to call somebody in the IT department to come out and do that. Getting to the plug often means pulling out the POS terminal and that's a nasty job if it's been in place for a while.

          It's easier at small shops where they don't build the POS terminals into a counter as completely. One would think that shops would have spares, but I know that most don't. They spend lots of resources to make sure they always have inventory that people are buying, but don't back up the ability to get paid. They do generally keep an eye on having enough coins and small notes to make change.

          1. Strahd Ivarius

            Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

            To plug a PDQ is easy, to configure it requires an IT guy and a lengthy process with the PDQ provider...

            And then you may have to reconfigure the POS system in order to send the transactions to the PDQ (anyone unfortunate enough to have worked with Oracle Xstore ?)

            And since the shop will be charged for each configured PDQ, you can't expect it will have any spare laying aroud "just in case"...

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Backups and redundancy, FFS

      "Seriously people, it's 2018 and you're not carrying more than one (type of) credit/debit card around with you? "

      When you live in a country where each credit card costs at least 50 quid a year, you don't fill your wallet with them.

      Fortunately cash is still popular here.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How's that Cashless-Society looking now Sir?

    Gotta cringe anytime the media gets baited into lapping up the PR of Cashless or sucking on the empty promises of the likes of Stripe etc. Politicians especially need to be reminded to 'check' assumptions at the door. Nothing I say will change anything. Soon Facebook-Google et al, will decide who you can and can't send a payment to... 'Cashless choice'!

    ~~~

    Sales Pitch:

    ~~~

    https://www.rte.ie/news/business/2018/0612/970015-moneyconf-dublin/

    ~~~

    Versus Reality:

    ~~~

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43645676

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-18/-no-cash-signs-everywhere-has-sweden-worried-it-s-gone-too-far

    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-06-11/maybe-dollars-should-be-digital

    https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/why-cashless-society-is-a-dangerous-idea-1.2869212

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: How's that Cashless-Society looking now Sir?

      I can't believe you got any down-votes, let alone 3.

      Seems to be a lot of corporate tools around here these days.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: How's that Cashless-Society looking now Sir?

        Seems to be a lot of corporate tools around here these days.

        Disagreeing with someone != 'being a corporate tool'. Get a life eh?

        1. IsJustabloke
          Joke

          Re: How's that Cashless-Society looking now Sir?

          @CrazyOldCatMan

          how very dare you have an opposing POV !

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: How's that Cashless-Society looking now Sir?

            How many times has something in the banking world gone tits-up recently affecting a large number of people? Now think what would happen with no cash as backup. How can anyone be in favour of that?

  5. David Kelly 2

    Money Can Buy Uptime

    The problem is that one does not "get what you pay for." One only gets what one shops for. One must shop for uptime to get uptime. Can't just throw money at it and expect to get something one didn't ask for.

  6. Peter Mount

    Is still happening

    I'm in the pub & a couple had had both their MasterCard cards #fail with transaction blood so ours still playing up.

    No beer icon as its not offering me the option on my phone

    1. brotherelf
      Coat

      Re: Is still happening

      > transaction blood

      I didn't know the readers were connected by SCSI (or wireless SCSI for the portable ones?), but things make a lot of sense now.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cash baby

    Yeah!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Limited Number?

    "We are aware there may have been some issues in processing a limited number of transactions earlier."

    Limited number? I was about to leave work at 1800 when we started to get 100s of failures per minute. That's not a limited number. It was 100% of the attempted MC transactions.

    1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

      Re: Limited Number?

      "Limited" is a relative term.

      A few hundred thousand transactions over a short period of tens/hundreds of millions of transactions per day is "limited" however the impact is still huge.

      It's just playing with words to make it sound better. I do wonder if their "scheduled maintenance" was "planned" to cause an outage though - I suspect not...

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Limited Number?

        > "Limited" is a relative term.

        Yes, like "some" or "a few", it ranges from "one" to "one hundred percent"

        This is PR spin at its finest.

  9. tiggity Silver badge

    Cash is King

    Get bored with reiterating this, cash just works.

    Bonus of no tracking your daily life as card use gives location, amount spent.

    Lots of small shops are cash only below a certain amount due to huge card changes or do not even have a card reader at all (tills in local green grocers & butchers look ark vintage)

    If you only shop at large chains then you might not notice that cash only is still a common thing.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Cash is King

      I am moving more and more to cash, but in my loval Tescos I keep the card because I've been short-changed so much with cash that I don't rust them with a 10p piece nowadays. Just my local one. Other Tescos lovely.

    2. Velv Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Cash is King

      You try buying a Mars bar with a £50 note

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cash is King

        "You try buying a Mars bar with a £50 note"

        Some small shops won't accept a card for purchases less than £5.

      2. whileI'mhere

        Re: Cash is King

        According to some stories last year (?) a £50 note is not cash. Rather, it is a drug-smuggling/criminal proceeds money-laundering device. Apparently they are so rarely used by normal people and disproportionately used by those types that some central bankers and law enforcers want high denomination notes removed from circulation.

        And anyway, what with the advent of super jumbo extra outsize choccy bars and the price of the stuff in general, I reckon a couple of said bars would not get much change out of £50 these days.

        1. Dave559

          Re: Cash is King

          £50 isn’t a particularly large denomination note (and there are occasions where they can be useful, admittedly not a large number of them just now, but inflation will gradually change that).

          £100 is indeed a fairly large note, and I’ve never seen one in real life, outwith a bank. And as for €500? Well, they are withdrawing them, for exactly the reason that virtually nobody non-dodgy uses them.

          1. David Woodhead

            Re: Cash is King

            £100 is indeed a fairly large note, and I’ve never seen one in real life, outwith a bank.

            You've never seen one in real life, full stop. They haven't existed since 1945.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Cash is King

              Ahem... Except in Scotland and Northern Ireland...

              http://www.acbi.org.uk/

            2. katrinab Silver badge

              Re: Cash is King

              £100 notes still exist in Scotland. I've never seen one though.

            3. Dave559

              Re: Cash is King

              Hehe, I knew someone would fall into my carefully-laid trap…

              £100 notes do exist in Scotland. :-P

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Cash is King

          "And anyway, what with the advent of super jumbo extra outsize choccy bars and the price of the stuff in general, I reckon a couple of said bars would not get much change out of £50 these days."

          I agree. A nice dinner out for two is easily 50 quid. An amusement park is a few times that and even the cinema for a family of 3-4 is going to be around that much these days. Having a stack of 20's is a pain in the bum.

          The criminal world will just shift currency or use small expensive goods as a medium of exchange. Banning £50 and £100 notes won't do a blind bit of good. I remember when RAM was serious coin and CPU's could fetch several hundred pounds each. The underworld will always adapt. iPhones and upper end Samsung phones might be used these days. At the price they sell for, a carton of new ones would be a serious load of money and having them in your possession isn't a crime in the same way a large amount of cash is these days.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Online WorkAround

    I had an issue with an online order with my mastercard.

    I switched to using paypal, which uses the same card, and it went through. I guess paypal has good connections!

  11. Velv Silver badge
    Boffin

    With the new Open Banking regulations taking shape and banks starting to offer services there’s an opportunity for a new product here. Patent application starts here!

    You have your main account with Bank A. Since Bank B is an approved Third Party Provider under Open Banking, Bank B provides you with a “contingency card” that has been validated to your account with Bank A and knows your status and ability to pay. You don’t need to keep money in Bank B, they know they’ll get it back from Bank A when everything stabilises.

    Assuming they use different schemes (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, JCB, etc) then this should provide a customer contingency against 99% of all outages (Bank A card processing, scheme processing, card acquirer).

    So you have to carry two cards, but they’re both ultimately linked to one account so you only have one account to maintain. And given the way cyber problems are going, outages are only going to increase...

    1. John Sager

      It's almost as easy to have 2 different CC providers & just use a direct debit to pay off the minor one. I have a Visa CC & debit card from my bank plus a shop-supplied Mastercard. The MC bill gets paid off monthly by DD. That way the cards use two completely different back-end systems. Anyway, I can't remember having a card declined due to system issues (even the Visa debit went through in Tesco amidst their problems a while back), but I have had the MC declined more than once because the transaction got caught by a fraud-detection process. That is bloody irritating, especially when abroad.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I used to have two credit cards with my bank. One MC and one Visa.

        Then the bank switched the MC accounts to Visa.

        My new Visa card regularly hit a "fraud" stop when I placed a big order for computer bits from Scan. On one occasion it took four phone calls - plus the security checks - before the card would work. On each attempt I was assured it was ok again. When I pointed out that the purchases from that supplier were part of my normal yearly pattern - they said their trend checking only took into account the last two months' purchases.

        On another occasion the fraud system was triggered by a buying splurge of DVDs from Amazon. Although Amazon only charged me a total - the purchases all went though the card individually.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          "When I pointed out that the purchases from that supplier were part of my normal yearly pattern - they said their trend checking only took into account the last two months' purchases."

          complaining to the FCO (or whatever it's calling itself this week) is worthwhile. At the very least it causes the bank some grief and costs having to actually answer the complaint. Enough of them and investigations get triggered.

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      That sounds like a Curve Mastercard. However, I suspect, if you link it to a Visa, it will fail if either the Visa or Mastercard networks go down.

      Just get another credit card from a different bank.

  12. Wobbly World

    The JCB option....

    Round my way when the credit card's don't work the third option is to rip the cash machine out the wall with a JCB avoid the local plod and bingo you have cash in hand be it covered in security dye if you are sloppy!! Then you have to do a bit of money laundering??

    If it's not one thing it's another cash is king hence the JCB...

  13. GSTZ

    Are we barking up the wrong tree ?

    We have the year 2018, but still much of the ATM/POS authorisation stuff runs on oldfashioned big iron gear - which has a big advantage, those systems are usually very stable, reliable and predictable - unlike that clumsy PC-derived technology to be found at the heart of contemporary systems everywhere. A good portion of the worldwide ATM/POS workload even runs on fault tolerant systems originally designed decades ago to be failsafe, and since having an excellent track record in that regard.

    The recent problems with MasterCard and VISA were certainly real and very annoying, but do we really know whther they were actually caused by the backend systems ? It is somewhat more likely that the bottlenecks / fault areas are somewhere in the complex networking (typically involving several parties) to be found between the card readers and the authorisation systems. We only have to look at the performance of other services delivered via the same kind networks - they are often impeded too. Maybe we need premium networks to support critical services, as opposed to the usual "social networking" stuff.

  14. sitta_europea Bronze badge

    Do some people actually rely on credit cards then? Seems a bit short-sighted to me.

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