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Are M&S’s contactless card errors a cause for concern?

Contactless card payment

More than 30m contactless payment cards have been issued in the UK. But some Marks & Spencer customers are finding their new contactless cards are more trouble than they’re worth.

The benefit of contactless payment cards is that, unlike normal chip-and-Pin cards, you don’t need to enter your Pin to pay for items worth less than £20.

This should help speed up transaction times and make queues shorter. However, there may be a downside to this increased convenience.

Double payment trouble

Over the weekend, there have been reports that some contactless card readers are taking transactions from cards that customers aren’t even holding near the payment terminals. Card readers are only supposed to take payments from contactless cards when a customer holds their card within a four centimeters distance.

Some M&S customers have reported payments being taken from cards in their purses or wallets, even when held at much greater distances. In some instances, customers were charged twice – once to the card they intended to pay with, and once to the same or a different contactless card without realising.

Obviously, this kind of error could cause a great deal of inconvenience for customers. Not only could you accidentally end up paying twice – you might end up paying on a card that’s getting near to its credit limit.

Inconvenient contactless cards

M&S is just one of around twenty major retailers to use the contactless technology at the moment, but smaller retailers are using the system too. And the number of places you can pay with contactless cards is expected to grow over the next few years. So, this is an issue that banks and retailers need to get sorted.

We’ve talked about issues with contactless cards before, as many people have concerns about their practicality. For example, Conversation commenter David Coleman complained that he was overcharged in a local pub because he didn’t get the opportunity to see the total before he paid.

‘I ordered two drinks at a local pub charged at £5.50 and the barmaid …just swiped my card – I didn’t even know that was possible. Just checked my statement and she has taken £15 from my account instead of the £5.50 the drinks cost!’

Do you have any concerns about contactless cards? Have you had payments taken from a card accidentally? Or has your bank given you a contactless card you don’t want?


I’m not surprised by this news. Well OK I am a little, in as much as its taken ages since contactless cards have been around for a story like this to break. As I’ve mentioned on other posts about banks and cards. I don’t trust them, never will. And for extra security I’ve got two bits of silver foil in my wallet to prevent any of the cards been “read” by mistake. But at least I can finally say “told you so”.

Although I’m still waiting for gangs of “pickpockets” to trawl the London Underground with contactess card readers and have no one the wiser until they find out their cards have been used to make all sorts of purchases on Amazon (who don’t verify purchases with the 3 digit code on the back).

“More than 30m contactless payment cards have been issued in the UK.” That statistic surprises me, and I guess many users have several . . . and that the banks and stores are issuing them indiscriminately, which is probably going to have repercussions in due course. Maybe the statistic includes all the Oyster cards and ITSO-compliant travel cards issued by bus and train companies.

It seems that the card-reader technology is not sufficiently sophisticated to prevent false readings and perhaps actual momentary contact between card and reader would be better than a proximity process.

Contact would help, and so would a PIN. But we have done that, and it works well.

I am not keen on using a contactless card unless there is a very easy way to check debits and I can control the maximum debit in a day.

I hope cash remains King for low value transactions as you have to volunteer the money in payment and not just have a card within 4 cm of the reader. I have two debit cards with the contactless symbol and would worry that the payment could be taken from both because they were in my wallet or purse and I was holding it close to a reader.

I’m a fan of contactless for convenience, but if it’s causing these kind of problems we need a serious rethink about how it works.

Although I’ve never had a dodgy transaction on my contactless card, there is one particular shop I go to in which a member of staff tries to insist on tapping my card for me. I don’t like this, and I think David Coleman’s story shows exactly why this is a bad idea. I’ll always check the amount before tapping my card to avoid errors.

I really don’t want contactless payment on debit cards, as I never use them to pay for anything except on the rare occasions when there is no other option. Contactless payment is useful to me only on my American Express cards, which I use to pay for everything. Because Amex charges the shops more in fees, Amex gives me more back. Therefore this facility on my debit card is an unnecessary security loophole which I would like to be closed.

Kiran K says:
24 May 2013

I generally try not to use new technology until it has bedded down. But I do like the idea of Contactless payment if security is ironed out. Does the silver foil in a wallet really work – does it prevent the cards from being read? I would really like to apply that. Maybe someone should sell wallets with linings that prevent the cards within from being read.
I have Oyster Card with my Bank Cards in the wallet. Am I risking my Bank Cards from being “read” with the Oyester Card at the tube stations?

I use pac-safe wallets. Card readers can’t read your cards or passports with these wallets.

My mother who is in her mid 80s couldn’t understand a charge to Transport for London on her bank statement and thought she had been charged for searching a travel route, after some investigating I realised she kept her contactless debit card with her bus pass and the charge was a bus fare. When I explained what had happened she asked her bank (Barclays) to issue her a non-contactless card, her new card was the same as the old one i.e. contactless. It would help those who are confused by such things if contactless cards were an opt-in rather than default option.

I asked my bank for a normal card and the told me they don’t make them any more!

I have a contactless Visa credit card, but so far have not found anywhere that accepts it, (I have not been to Marks and Spencer recently).

I also have a contactless bus pass. This will not work unless it is within 3 millimetres of the ticket machine. If these can be made to be this insensitive, why can’t shop terminals?

Some years ago I cancelled my Barclaycard, when they first launched contactless Payment. I have had a Barclaycard since they were issued and replaced it without telling me and I just noticed a symbol on the front and phoned to ask. The person I spoke to did not know what it meant and had to refer me. When I found out I asked to have it switched off or the card replaced without and was told this was not possible so I changed card provider.

Please allow members to read the information here as it is relevant to this conversation.

It appears that it is not just Marks and Spencer cards, according to today’s Telegraph ‘Barclays ‘contactless’ cards exposed to fraud’ It seems that some mobiles have the facility to read the important information on cards.


Is this just the tip of the iceberg?

Are you sure that’s today’s article? The date on that webpage is 23 Mar 2012.

This article dated 3rd June seems to tie up with your comment on mobile phones …


Either way, looks like I’m getting ready to say “told you so”, won’t be long now. Banks and security what a laugh.

You’re right, it was 23 March 2012. I was told by somebody at lunch of a problem with people using mobiles or mobile devices to ‘catch’ the information on Barclays contactless cards. When I returned home, I googled and found this article and thought I had a scoop. Shouldn’t have had the last glass of wine.

I wander into M&S a buy a vanilla fudge bar. I have my wallet in my hand. I open it to take out my chip and PIN card. At this point, I am holding my wallet over the reader, less than 7cm away. There’s a contactless card in my wallet and the terminal reads it. I don’t see it register a payment because my wallet is covering up the screen of the PIN pad. I put my wallet in my other hand, or on the counter, or in my pocket or wherever 30cm-40cm away. Now I put the chip and PIN card in the reader and I notice that the transaction has completed because the contactless card (now 30cm away) has been read, so I write to The Daily Mail. Mystery solved.

See the more up to date information using the link which I previously posted.

I would not object to contactless payment if security loops were closed down and it was a separate card, not a debit or credit card. Perhaps a key ring card would be useful as we rarely leave home without our keys or a card where I decide how much money I load onto it, like a pay-as-you-go phone card. I regularly top up my mobile with just a quick text message and it is my decision how much money is on it. I don’t like the current limit set by the banks of £20 x 5 transactions per day. You could lose £500 before you realise the card is missing or before you notice fraudulent activity.

The reason why there are so many issued is because the banks are simply issuing them without informing you what they have done and not providing you with an alternative or allowing you to switch them off.