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A Thing

A low-tech safeguard against high-tech sinkholes

By Biff Matthews

According to the National Retail Federation, one-fifth of retail transactions (19.9%) occur during the last two months of each year. With the critical holiday season approaching, it's time for you, as ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs), to help merchants stay up and running when they are faced with communication snafus, device malfunctions or other fiascos at the POS.

When a PC goes down, the obvious backup tools are pen, paper and calculator. The merchant equivalents are an imprinter and sales drafts. This is a fall-back system every merchant needs. Following Murphy's Law, the only issue is not whether this tool will be needed, but rather when.

You and your merchants insure virtually everything that's operation-critical except the transaction - without which nothing else matters.

A golden oldie

An imprinter is the least costly insurance you can buy. It always pays off. And it's a surefire guarantee against chargebacks. With the average ticket north of $50, one sale saved despite a down terminal, or one chargeback prevented, more than justifies the investment.

An imprinter is the ultimate, easy add-on sale. It's inexpensive. It won't become obsolete (it's already a POS dinosaur). And virtually nothing can go wrong with it. Recommending this simple, preventive measure to merchants demonstrates thoughtful planning, depth of knowledge and an exceptional level of professionalism.

A chargeback buster

Chargeback prevention is the strongest argument in favor of having a backup to electronic transacting. If a magnetic stripe is unreadable, resulting in a keyed transaction, an imprint of the card is a must for three reasons:

  1. To provide proof that a card is present
  2. To meet card Association requirements for providing a legible transaction receipt in the event of a retrieval request
  3. To prevent chargebacks due to fraud and scams.

There are, unfortunately, criminals who understand how the payments industry works and are determined to exploit it. They prey upon big-ticket stores or retailers carrying easily fenced goods.

Before visiting an establishment, the thieves compromise the stripe of a legitimate card to render it unreadable. They then make a minor purchase and observe whether the store makes an imprint of the card. If it does not, the fraudsters (or their cohorts) return and make a sizeable purchase with the damaged card.

When the bill arrives, the crooks dispute the transaction. In this case, the merchant is defenseless because he did not make an imprint of the card. He is out the cost of the merchandise.

Another version of this scam, somewhat less brazen, is the cardholder who disputes every keyed transaction. Cardholders realize they have the upper hand in disputes, and because Associations do not track cardholder fraud, these scams go largely undetected.

A spare-tire POS

You can go a long way toward protecting your merchants (not to mention your residual income) with an old-fashioned backup imprinter system.

Of course, merchants need to keep their imprinters available for all transactions, teach clerks how to use them properly and educate all within the retail organization about why this particular aspect of fraud prevention is as important as those that are better known.

Imprinters are not familiar creatures to novice sales clerks who grew up with computers. They will put the card in upside down or on top of the sales draft. They'll put the imprinter form in backwards. All of us used to know how to use the devices properly; today, almost no one does. That's why training is so important.

An imprinter is like a spare tire: You may rarely need it, but there's no substitute for it when you do. Numerous companies offer imprinters. Addressograph Bartizan LLC and Data Systems Co. are among them.

CardWare offers a backup processing kit, which includes an imprinter, imprinter plates, a small quantity of sales drafts and credit slips, and complete instructions for backup or manual processing.

A little life jacket

As we enter the holiday buying season, a simple postcard, statement message, statement stuffer, fax or e-mail is a worthwhile reminder to merchants that plugging this hole in security is something that can be achieved easily, inexpensively and almost instantly.

While the card Associations have relaxed rules on small-ticket sales to speed certain, designated transaction types, there is no such accommodation for the beleaguered general merchant population. Requirements for legible, signed receipts for the majority of sales are unchanged.

So, ask your merchants, What did you do the last time your terminal or printer failed, or the system went down or the phone lines malfunctioned?

One day's business is substantial, particularly during the holiday season. And even on a slow day, just one chargeback prevented is economic justification for having an imprinter backup. It's also legitimate mischief prevention: foiled once, a predatory lowlife is unlikely to return.

Smoke detectors and fire escapes are easy-to-identify safety measures for merchants' premises during an emergency. Less obvious, but equally critical to merchant success, are measures that protect merchants' ability to do business when unexpected events occur. Protecting our merchants' income should be the No. 1 business of us all.

Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150 or e-mail him at

Article published in issue number 060902

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