The news over the last couple of days has been full of stories about a fraudster who scammed thousands out of users when processing top-ups in his newsagent shop. As is usual in cases like this, the journalists have tried to explain what happened, but so far they have spectacularly failed to get it right. This may be down to TfL not wanting the exact procedure to be made public in case other shops try it as well; or it could be that not enough care has been taken understanding the issues. It does leave confidence in the system seriously compromised, which is a problem for honest shopkeepers who may now see a drop in activity.
Firstly, I’m not suggesting that I know exactly what has happened, but I’m fairly confident that one popular scenario has NOT happened. There is no way that the transactions have been voided after the card (and user) has left the shop. Remember, top-up is a two stage process where first the card is read, then the amount of top-up is written back to the card. If the transaction is voided after the card is removed from the reader then the only organisation losing money is TfL. I find it inconceivable that TfL would not notice such problems over a prolonged period.
Secondly, what can be done to restore confidence in the ticket stop system? The single most important thing we can do is to check our receipts after the top-up has taken place, asking for one if it isn’t immediately forthcoming. Let the shopkeeper know that we are checking what has happened. Also, let’s make a concious effort to get our cards registered. The fact that TfL could only trace a few victims suggests that the scam targets unregistered cards. Whilst I fully understand that some people don’t like the big brother conspiracy, registration does make the card a lot safer to use, especially if it’s lost or stolen. It also provides access to the online history which may help us spot any issues quickly.
Finally, TfL must overhaul the system used by ticket stops to manage Oyster cards. And once done they should explain exactly what went on so that everyone can regain confidence in the system.
Links to the story in the press: