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The problem with Visa’s payment system was unprecedented, with outages experienced across Europe. Photograph: Alamy

Visa apologises after system crash causes card payment chaos

WT24 Desk

Millions of people were left unable to pay for goods and services in shops, petrol stations and railway stations across Britain and Europe after an unprecedented crash in Visa’s payment system, The Guardian reports.

Shoppers and travellers were unable to use their debit and credit cards when the meltdown began at around 2.30pm on Friday across Europe.

Visa apologised for the hardware failure late on Friday. The company said it had fallen “well short” of its goal to ensure cards worked reliably at all times, but assured customers that Visa is now operating at “close to normal levels”.

A Visa spokesman said: “Earlier today, Visa had a system failure that impacted customers across Europe. Our goal is to ensure all Visa cards work reliably 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We fell well short of this goal today and we apologise to all of our partners and, most especially, to Visa cardholders.

“Visa cardholders can now use their Visa cards as we are currently operating at close to normal levels.

“The issue was the result of a hardware failure. We have no reason to believe this was associated with any unauthorised access or malicious event.”

Major retailers had earlier confirmed that card purchases were failing, as queues built up at petrol stations, with frustrated drivers unable to pay after filling up.

Marks & Spencer said: “We are unable to accept Visa card payments currently. No retailers are able to accept Visa cards.”

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson added: “We are aware that Visa are currently experiencing problems. We are doing our best to help our customers and apologise for any inconvenience.” However, some customers were simply dumping their shopping at the tills.

Mastercard and cash machine transactions continued as usual but for bank customers with Visa cards only there was deep frustration.

Lisa Eagleton-Muir, 44, had come to London to audition for the Great British Sewing Bee but could not buy any food at King’s Cross station for the train back to Newcastle.

“I’ve only got two cards and they’re both Visa. I tried to buy my tea in M&S and a cafe but they were both rejected. I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s a long journey home with no food.” Luckily she was able to withdraw money from the a cash machine.

Paperchase in the station was among many retailers that said it had stopped taking card payments following repeated cancellations.

Others tweeted to vent their anger.

A spokesman for the supermarket chain Asda said problems with payments had been happening in stores across the country sporadically from 3pm on Friday. Some payments were going through but some were not, he said. Customers were told that cash was the best way to pay.

“When you try to pay something, it sends a message to Visa and then Visa have to send a message back to the chip and pin machine to say this is OK and then the banks are in between at some point. The message that is coming back to the chip and pin, that is where the fault is,” the spokesman said.

“We are advising customers that cash is the best way to buy your shopping because you can still get cash out with [a] debit card,” he said. It is not clear how many shoppers have been affected.

The train operator GWR said its ticket booths and vending machines were not able to accept Visa cards. A spokesman said that onboard train staff were aware of the problem and it was possible for passengers to buy tickets on the train with cash.

However, as the meltdown continued, he said: “We encourage passengers to use cash to buy tickets at ticket offices or the machines before they travel. We are taking steps to make ticket buying as easy as possible for passengers at this time.”

It is understood the Bank of England immediately contacted Visa to find out when its system would be back up and running. One banking industry source said: “There is never a good time for the payments system to go down but a Friday afternoon, when there is a flood of people leaving work, must be among the worst.”

In Spain, the Guardia Civil sent a tweet aimed at reassuring those affected by the system failure. Beneath a picture of Johnny Depp as a shocked Captain Jack Sparrow, the force said: “Stay calm. If you can’t pay it’s not because you’ve been robbed or hacked. Visa is suffering a service crash in Europe that’s stopping payments going through in its cards.”

Bank customers in the UK were still able to obtain cash from ATMs but with workers heading home for the weekend queues began to build up at cash machines.

A spokesperson for Royal Bank of Scotland said: “We are aware that some customers are experiencing issues using their debit cards. We apologise to customers for the inconvenience and we are working with our suppliers to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Customers are still able to access cash through the ATM network.”

Paymentsense, which provides merchant services to more than 60,000 independent businesses across the UK and Ireland, tweeted: “Visa has advised us that they are having issues with its authorisation service since 14:36pm which may cause intermittent authorisation call failures & time outs.”

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