Questions of Cash: Why is it still possible to use a cloned bank card?

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The Independent Online

Q. In 'Questions of Cash' on 24 October, you reported that it is possible for a bank to tell from its records whether an original card or a cloned card has been used to make a withdrawal from a cash machine. If this is true, why is the payment allowed to proceed in the first place? Refusing to authorise payment from a cloned card would immediately reduce the amount of credit card fraud. PH, by email.

A. The situation is more complex than it might seem. Normally, a cash machine in the UK will process a transaction from a debit or credit card using the chip on the card. Occasionally, when the chip cannot be read by a cash machine, the transaction will be processed using the magnetic strip.

The records of the cash machine will show whether the payment authorisation was made using the chip or the magnetic strip. Although it is theoretically possible that a chip could be cloned, UK Payments Administration says there is no evidence that this has actually ever happened. Cloned cards have, to date, only involved the cloning of the magnetic strip, it seems.

Card issuers therefore assume that if a chip was used to authorise a payment, then the original card was used. If authorisation was made via a magnetic strip, this creates doubt about whether the original or a cloned card was used. On this basis, the card issuer will seek additional information to indicate whether the cardholder's own card was used.

In the case of the reader whose letter we answered, he was adamant his card had not been used to make a cash withdrawal but Halifax said it was satisfied that its records, and those of the cash machines used, made it clear that the chip on the card had been read to authorise the withdrawal. This, and the use of the correct PIN, showed that the original card had been used, said Halifax.

Q. I took out a phone and broadband contract, with a 28-day trial period, with TalkTalk, which went live on 25 June. Two weeks later, I phoned TalkTalk to cancel the service, because of low bandwidth and frequent wireless disconnection. I returned all TalkTalk's internet equipment on 23 July. But now, TalkTalk is demanding payment of 170.63, and has instructed a firm of debt collectors. I have repeatedly phoned TalkTalk to discuss this and have been told a manager will phone me back which never happens. PD, by email.

A.TalkTalk has now applied a credit to your account for the full outstanding balance, leaving you without anything to pay.

Q. I have just returned from holiday in Damascus, travelling with BMI. Prior to the journey, I asked BMI if there was a weight restriction on hand luggage. I was told no as long as the luggage was within the dimensions allowed. At check-in on my return, I was told that my bag was 5kg overweight, and I had to pay a 75 surcharge. I paid the extra, but contacted BMI when I got home and asked again whether there a weight restriction on hand luggage, to which again they said no. I explained the situation, to which they replied, "It is at the discretion of the check-in staff". I followed their guidelines, yet they refuse to reimburse me. JK, by email.

A. A spokesman for BMI says: "The hand baggage allowance on BMI flights is primarily defined by the dimensions of the bag a maximum of 55cm x 40cm x 23cm, plus a small personal item such as a handbag or slim briefcase. While there is no stated weight limit, the passenger must be able to lift the bag unaided into the overhead locker. Heavier items are accepted at the discretion of check-in staff. This is to ensure the health and safety of all of BMI's passengers and staff."

We share your concern that there is a lack of clarity over the rules, with discretion given to check-in staff. But BMI's explanation is consistent with the terms and conditions printed on its website. These state: "We may specify maximum dimensions for baggage which you carry on to the aircraft. If we have not done so, baggage which you carry on to the aircraft must fit under the seat in front of you or in an enclosed storage compartment in the cabin of the aircraft. If your baggage cannot be stored in this manner, or is of excessive weight, or is considered unsafe for any reason, it must be carried as checked baggage." There is no ombudsman scheme to arbitrate over complaints against airlines unfortunately.

Q. I entered this year's Nottingham Triathlon, which took place on 23 August. At the last minute, I pulled out because of work commitments. Entries were handled by Pacesetters and I notified Iain Hamilton, the owner/manager, that I had to withdraw. He told me that under their terms and conditions, I was unable to get a refund of the 47 entry price, as it was too late to withdraw. The event was fully booked and I was told my place would be treated as if I was competing. I turned up for the latter half of the event to find another individual was running under my name and using my number. I was outraged as I had paid for this and someone else had received free entry, or else Pacesetters sold an additional ticket; in either case, I should receive a refund. Pacesetters has a "strict" ID registration in their terms and conditions, so I don't see how this could have happened. It declines to make a refund. DM, by email.

A. Iain Hamilton referred us to the Pacesetters' terms and conditions. These state that: "applicants who do not attend the race/event will not receive any form of refund/credit", unless they withdraw from the event before the closing date which you did not. On this basis, Pacesetters confirms that it is not willing to make a refund. Iain Hamilton says, "I continue to feel that we have done nothing wrong".

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at:

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