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Singapore sale system snafu robs shoppers

July 9, 1999
Web posted at: 8:45 a.m. EDT (1245 GMT)

by David Legard

Singapore (IDG) -- Consumers in Singapore saw a total of 400,000 Singapore dollars (equivalent to $235,807 in U.S. currency) wrongly debited from their bank accounts through a crash in the country's cashless point-of-sale system over the last week.

Many customers of the Development Bank of Singapore Ltd.
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were told at retail outlets that their purchase transactions through the nationwide Network for Electronic Transfers (NETS) had failed. Unknown to these customers, the magnetic stripe card-based system continued to debit the transaction amount from their bank accounts.

Some customers were charged three times for repeated failed transactions, while others were told that their transactions had been rejected because they didn't have sufficient funds in their bank accounts.

About 4,500 transactions were affected by the problem, which was caused by congestion in the bank's computer clearance system, bank President Ng Kee Choe said Wednesday at a press conference. The NETS system is fitted with a time-out check, whereby any transaction not completed within 45 seconds is rejected.

A surge in NETS use overloaded the ability of the bank's clearance system to respond on time, causing transactions to be rejected, but the bank's internal system had already debited customer accounts, the company said.

Ng said that later Development Bank will increase the number of communications channels between its own systems and those of NETS from 96 to 128. The bank will also change the current single-lane transaction system to a multi-lane system and allow a longer time for transactions to be approved. This will reduce NETS errors to their previous level of around one failure per 10,000 transactions, Ng said.

Although the bank said it reimbursed all affected customers within three days and credited them with an extra dollar for interest lost, the crash has caused embarrassment to both the bank and customers in a country that prides itself on its advanced technical capabilities.

Apologizing for the failure, Ng said, "I can understand the frustration and the embarrassment that these customers went through. I myself would be very upset."

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