Contactless debit cards – be careful!

This weekend there has been another story about problems with contactless debit cards – some people in M&S say they have either been charged twice, others that money was taken from their contactless debit card when they were planning to use a different card.

M&S say they have received 5 complaints – it’s not clear how many of these were upheld, nor how many involved the customer being charged twice, which is obviously a much more serious problem. Even if the card reader ‘finds’ the contactless card and charges it, the store’s systems should prevent the customer being charged twice.

Contactless card readers only use  a weak signal, so should not work if the card is more than a couple of inches from it. But some of the problems seem to have occurred when the card was still in a handbag and not that close.

Another possible problem area is London Transport’s oyster card, where buses currently also accept contactless debit cards, because it is possible for the card reader to detect the debit card first and not the pre-loaded Oyster card, see this article. London Transport is advising that users keep their Oyster Card separate from their contactless debt card, rather than touch in with a wallet containing both.

So far London Transport says it has issued 60 refunds because of this problem. But I think because the amounts taken are so low, some people may have not noticed the problem. And the problem is likely to get worse when the system is extended to tubes and trains later in the year.

I don’t think there is any point in being Luddite about this new technology – it seems unlikely that in 20 years we will all be carrying around heavy copper and silver coloured disks. And M&S are taking more than 250,000 contactless transactions per week – so clearly the system is mostly working well and its customers are choosing to use it.

But what can you do in the meanwhile to avoid the teething problems? Some practical suggestions:

  • Get out of the habit of putting your wallet or purse on the counter near a card reader
  • Don’t keep your Oyster Card in your purse/wallet
  • Check your bank statements – which probably means not carrying around a ‘spare’ contactless card that you rarely use and so don’t often monitor.

If you are still very concerned, you might think about buying a RFID blocking wallet or card holder  such as this one – it shields your cards, preventing them being detected and hence charged.  Me? I’m thinking about getting one…


  1. Oyster can send you a monthly statement by email detailing all your journeys and the cost of them. It’s a useful way of keeping check on the outgoings on your card

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