Credit, debt and security

Posted on October 14, 2009. Filed under: All, forensic, life | Tags: , , , , , |

Sitting at home with nothing but the radio and daytime TV for company is an interesting experience. I tend to keep the TV on while I’m working just to have some background noise and movement.

One thing I’ve noticed recently, though, is that there’s a steadily growing number of adverts for “pre-paid credit cards”. Let’s just review that for a moment – pre-paid credit cards.

Now – a normal credit card is really a debt card – i.e. a token which represents a notional sum of money which someone is willing to lend you, and in the UK such things are governed by the consumer credit act. This makes the lender jointly responsible with the retailer and can give a handy degree of protection if something goes wrong with a purchase.

Then we have debit cards – which are a mechanism for getting access to such funds as are available in a bank account and nothing more, unless an overdraft has been agreed. These are not governed by the consumer credit act.

So, where do pre-paid credit cards lie ? Well – the process is simple – the user “loads” cash onto the card, just like making a deposit into a bank account – in effect, giving the card company an interest-free loan. When the card is used, only the available balance in the account can be spent. These cards are being marketed as a way of controlling your own spending without having to carry cash.

So what is the card ?

To me, it looks very like another form of debit card with none of the consumer protection of a true credit card and fewer of the checks required to open a bank account.

I’ll go further – the adverts seem to be targeting the age group who traditionally have problems getting credit cards because of age and low income. These cards look like real credit cards and can be used in much the same way BUT have less protection – even less since chip & PIN was introduced.

Ah, chip and PIN – I hate this system. Under the old scheme where the bearer had to sign the slip, the retailer could be held liable for fraudulent transactions because it could be claimed that they had failed to check the signature properly. With chip and PIN the responsibility shifts and the first claim is that the card holder has not protected the PIN properly. Don’t get me started on abuse of CVV for mail order and Internet transactions…

So, now we have a card with low initial requirements, no consumer credit act protection and nothing significant in the way of proper anti-fraud mechanisms.

Oh dear. I can see at least 6 criminal activities which would benefit from these cards already.

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    This is the weblog of Angus M. Marshall, forensic scientist, author of Digital Forensics : digital evidence in criminal investigations and MD at n-gate ltd.

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