Pretend nothing happened

So we have yet another financial security incident in the UAE, and once again, the financial institutions decline to comment on what's going on, preferring to leave their consumers in the dark

Tags: Credit cardVisa Incorporation
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By  Mark Sutton Published  September 6, 2008

So we have yet another financial security incident in the UAE, and once again, the financial institutions decline to comment on what's going on, preferring to leave their consumers in the dark.

According to The National newspaper, US cardholders resident in the UAE have been getting fraudulent transactions on their cards from the US. But are were the cardholders told this by the card companies or the issuing banks? Nope, its a warning on the US Embassy website.

The National says that it tried to get a comment on the fraud from Visa, but with no luck. (Hats off to Mastercard for responding, by the way). Maybe it is a weekend during Ramadan - but Visa - do you think that the criminals are sleeping? Do you think customers that read the story feel secure that steps are being taken to address the problem? Don't you think customers ought to at least get advice on what to look out for or what to do if they think they've been robbed?

As usual, the details of this latest fraud are unclear, and of course, if there's an ongoing investigation, not all details can be given out at the risk of tipping off the crooks or encouraging similar attacks. The National's report makes out that 'hackers' have cracked the computer systems of a card acquirer or acquirer in the UAE, but without any more info to go on, it could just as easily be a disgruntled employee selling customer data, ATM skimming or whatever.

In this instance, the fraud seems specific to US card holders in Abu Dhabi - so are their numbers being stolen to order by thieves in the US? Or was it an opportunistic thief who guessed that expats might not be as quick at checking card transactions? Or perhaps an insider with a grudge against Americans? Who's going to be next?

Aside from the acquirers and the all-round poor communication skills shown by financial organizations in the Middle East, security processes by merchants - things like printing card numbers on receipts, failing to check signatures, lack of chip-and-PIN and so on - are pretty dreadful too.  It is surprising that we don't see more credit card fraud in the region - or maybe there is, but we don't know about it..

The whole business of credit cards in the Middle East needs a shakeup. It's bad enough that credit card companies can't reach agreement with petrol stations, but these constant security scares, with no attempt to raise awareness, educate or inform end users, acquiers and merchants on better practices, can only make the region more risky for credit card companies.

And more risk, inevitably, will mean more cost. Fixing the system now, which includes more openess about how and why fraud occurs and penalties for those organizations that don't measure up, would create more trust, and more satisfaction among customers, and encourage credit card use, instead of keeping quiet and pretending nothing happened, which just creates mistrust.

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