SO OK, THE BANKS FINALLY got fed up of losing a fortune on their credit cards through fraud. Fair enough. Surprisingly (perhaps?), I’m not one of those who delights in their misfortunes – experience has taught me that eventually it’s Mr & Mrs Average who end up paying the bill. And while it would be a cheap shot to suggest ‘Serves them right for dishing the plastic out like confetti’ there is no doubt that they have contributed to their own predicament. The irony, of course, is that it was the pursuit of increased efficiency (or, in everyday English, saving money and boosting profits) that really opened up Pandora’s box for the fraudsters. If the banks hadn’t pushed out the old manual vouchers in favour of EFT, the skimming industry would never have started. By the same token, we’d probably by now have exhausted 62 rain forests and stood the risk of being sued by our managers due to prolonged skin contact with carbon paper or coating, so I’m not suggesting being a luddite either.

NOW WHEN A FEW YEARS AGO, the holiday programmes first started alerting us to the problems we might face using our plastic in France, due to their adoption of chip and pin, the general reaction was one of sad bewilderment at the behaviour of those strange people across the Channel. And the banks’ response was mainly along the lines of ‘bloody daft idea, certainly not worth all the costs involved’. Oh how things change. But like a certain well known oil company of Anglo-Dutch parentage, why copy something that someone else is using successfully when you can devote loads of resources into re-inventing the round things on each corner of your motor car.

THE RESULT IS THAT we are now being faced with card security overload. Pardon my ignorance, but if I believe what you say about the invincibility of new chip technology (shades of the Titanic?) and how it will be impossible to decipher or clone, why are you insisting our terminals have to be online as well. (You remember online-authorisation – foisted on us at considerable expense, and for the benefit of the telephone companies, as it was guaranteed to cut down fraud). And why, if these new cards are so secure, are some of you insisting that we mustn’t handle our customers’ precious plastic but that they should do all the work? Being stood in a queue behind a wally at an ATM is bad enough – with a shopful of impatient customers, watching Mr Bloggs struggling to insert his plastic the right way round will be no laughing matter.

AND THEN OF COURSE there’s your ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy for the numbskulls who can’t enter their pin correctly. In the past customers either paid, drove off or came into the shop claiming no means of payment. Now we’ll have a whole new breed to contend with, the ‘I’m just going to the nearest ATM to get my card unblocked’ brigade. Do it wrong at an ATM and you lose your card – do it wrong at your local petrol station and all that happens is the very nice retailer gives you an interest free loan or even a free gift. And don’t think of calling Mr Plod to your serial forgetters – if they’re not interested in the people we get now who ‘forget’ their money, do you think they want to spend time trying to prove your ‘customer’ isn’t really just a technophobe who can’t work with numbers? Incidentally, the idea of using an ATM to unblock your card is wonderful, but if you can’t remember your ‘shopping’ pin how come you can remember your ATM pin?

AND WHAT ABOUT the equipment manufacturers? As we’ve only been using night-time pay windows for 30 years, was it too surprising to predict that we’d want an externally mounted, weatherproof key pad rather than stretching the curly wurly through the chute and seeing how it reacted with the leaking bottle of coke?

OF COURSE, SIX MONTHS down the line everything will have settled down and we’ll wonder what the fuss was about. That’ll be about the time that the latest model chip decoders will be available!