Y2K bug strikes early for credit-card machines

Shops across Britain have been crippled by Y2K related credit-card problems, increasing fears that the big day may indeed bring computer chaos.

Thousands of shops have reported problems with credit-card machines that have apparently malfunctioned when attempting to recognise the year 2000, causing chaos in the January sales.

Many shops have resorted to using archaic credit-card machines that produce a carbon copy of transactions instead of electronically connecting with a central database. This has resulted in extended queues at the tills during a traditionally busy time for stores.

The credit-card machines that have been effected by this computing error are produced by electronics giant Racal and distributed by high-street-bank HSBC.

The Bank of England, which operates Racal credit card machines has however issued a statement reassuring customers that this is a relatively minor problem. The statement reads, "There have been some problems with a small percentage (5%) of point of sale terminals. Although there is a simple workaround, details were not immediately available to all affected retailers, so consumers were inconvenienced yesterday. Now that the details have been widely disseminated, consumers are much less likely to be affected." According to the Bank of England this problem will also disappear on January 1st.

Although there is a document on the Racal Web site dated November 7 pointing out that there may be some Y2K related problems with payment equipment prior to January 1, a spokeswoman for the government's Y2K watchdog Action2000 admits she wasn't previously aware of this.

"No is the short answer to that," she says. "It has only come to light because there is a four day window in which machines start acknowledging January 1st. But it is an easily remedied problem and only a small number of retailers have been effected. Action 2000 has alway said that minor problems are inevitable in a project of this scope and will not be restricted to 31 December."