A "systems upgrade," not another data breach, caused registers to decline or delay Visa transactions on April Fool's Day, according to news reports. For about 45 minutes on the afternoon of April 1, shoppers throughout the United States reported problems using Visa credit cards to complete their purchases. Some payments that had been initially declined later showed up on customers' credit card statements, according to Arizona Republic reporter Russ Wiles.
Visa Inc. spokeswoman Sandra Chu told the Associated Press that software updates unintentionally slowed the payment platform's network, causing some transactions to time out and others to land in a processing queue. Chu said that the slowdown was not the result of a data breach similar to the one experienced by third party payment processor Global Payments earlier in 2012.
During downtime, merchants can queue Visa purchases
When a payment processor fails to respond to a transaction authorization request, merchants can follow any of a few fallback procedures. In many cases, merchants implement their own downtime protocols, according to procedures manuals posted online by leading payment-processing gateway operators.
For instance, a vendor can queue credit card purchases for later processing under terms set forth in their merchant agreements. By taking a physical imprint of the customer's credit card and obtaining a signed receipt, most merchants can manually submit transaction authorizations once a network has been restored.
Retailers and banks set their own fallback procedures
Other merchants set "floor limits," a maximum amount they're willing to risk on electronic-only authorizations. For example, a gas station may set a floor limit of $25, enabling the purchase of a candy bar but declining to sell a tank of gas. Contactless credit cards often come with their own floor limits, communicating a recommended maximum purchase amount to a retailer's point of sale system.
Consumer advocates expressed concern that knowledge of a payment processing outage in real time could encourage an uptick in fraudulent debit and credit card use. According to the company's website, Visa's zero liability guidelines for unauthorized purchases apply to outage situations, but customers should check their online statements and report suspicious charges as soon as possible.