If you are an FBC prepaid MasterCard holder there is some important news. The bank recently announced that cardholders will no longer be able to make automatic payments (and non CVV2 payments) of more than US$60 using their prepaid MasterCards. You see when you are making a purchase using MasterCard/Visa you normally have to enter your card number and a secret digit code at the back (CVC/CVV2) in order for the transaction to go through. Well, thanks to legacy arrangements it is still possible for you to be debited without having to enter this secret code let alone 2-Factor authentication codes sent via SMS/email to prove it is you. This often happens on popular sites but it can happen on other platforms as well.

Thwarting online fraud

These days online fraud using Visa and MasterCards is on the wane thanks to 2-factor authentication codes that you have to enter to confirm a transaction. However, there is still a loophole for processors that support subscriptions. When you sign up for a subscription you are actually just authorising the online merchant in question to make future debits to your card/account without having to give them any express approval in future. For bona fide and established services like Netflix, Showmax and son this is not a problem. They normally take a fixed pre-agreed amount and are always transparent about everything.

Below such services are grey-area service providers such as hosting companies that offer “free” services in the first month in return for you giving them your card details. If you are not careful and forget to cancel the subscription you will end up losing funds. Also with such services, there is no clear usage calculator to show how much you end up owing and if you are not careful you can rake up a lot of money in service fees. Hackers and scammers can also exploit the lax arrangement to bilk you of your hard-earned money.

Still a loophole

FBC’s proactive block will stop all such transactions that go above the US$60 and most people will still not be affected. The thing though is that this loophole still exists. US$60 might not be life-changing money but it is still a lot of money especially if you factor in the numbers. A lot of clever hackers especially those that do online scams no longer steal large sums from a few people. They prefer instead to take small amounts from lots of people. Stealing US$5 from 1000 people is easier and more guaranteed to work than stealing US$5 000 from one person. Nigerian scammers have been stealing US$20 amounts for decades and few have been arrested.

You can easily protect yourself using the FBC App

You can easily protect yourself from such scams using the FBC MasterCard app from the Play Store or App Store. All you need to do is make sure that you block your card using the toggle switch in the app. This temporary blocking button does not permanently kill your card. Instead, whenever the switch is on the off position no one can use your card. You can do this regularly until you want to make a payment or you know a given subscription is due (e.g the day Netflix deducts money from your account) and keep the card disabled by default. Most scammers just back off when they encounter a card declined error as they don’t want to raise suspicion.

Another way to protect yourself is to make sure you only make a deposit when you need to immediately use the money. The prepaid card is not a bank account even though it might work like one. Hackers cannot steal money that is not there. If there is no excessive money in that account it means even if they do successfully steal something it’s not much. I don’t know about you but to me, US$60 is a lot of money for me. I keep less than US$20 for the odd subscription in my FBC at all times unless when I want to make a payment and I do the payment as soon as the money reflects.

You can also make use of services like PayPal which is free if you are a buyer. The biggest drawback of the FBC MasterCard and indeed most cards is that you cannot see what payments you have authorised. You cannot see your subscriptions. It’s unfortunately not something that FBC can easily fix unless they start issuing Virtual Cards like FNB in South Africa. With PayPal, you can clearly see who you have authorised to deduct money from your account, when, for what, how much they have already taken, what they took the last time they deduct money from your account and most importantly a button that allows you to block them from making future deductions. You see some services like to make it hard for you to cut them off and once they are in through that door they want to keep their snouts in your money trough. PayPal makes it easy to block them off. It also makes it easy to recover what they took since most of the time it’s still in the PayPal system anyway. You have up to six months to recover your money and if the hacker is gone you might get it back via Buyer Protection.

FBC is to be applauded for this move but you have even better tools at your disposal to thwart hackers and scammers.