Many of us now prefer the convenience of shopping online. Retailers keep our payment details on file allowing purchases to occur with just a few mouse clicks or screen taps. But online shopping also comes with a major hassle: when your credit or bank card expires, you have to enter the new card details on every store.
The Guardian writer Anna Tims discovered that may not always be the case, though. In fact, those online stores may actually know your new card details before you do.
It sounds scary, but Tims stumbled across what turns out to be a well-established, but little known payments feature offered by the likes of Visa and MasterCard. And it was Amazon who brought it to her attention.
Tims noticed an additional credit card had appeared on her Amazon account that she didn’t recognize. Her existing card was about to expire, so a few weeks later a replacement arrived in the post. The new card details matched that of the mystery card listed on her Amazon account.
So how did Amazon know before the card owner what the new card details would be?
In the case of Tims, it was down to a service offered by Visa called Visa Account Updater (VAU). MasterCard offers an equivalent called Automatic Billing Updater. According to Visa, VAU “enables the electronic exchange of updated account information among participating merchants, acquirers and Visa card issuers.”
VAU exists to bypass the problems that occur when one card expires and gets replaced with a new one. It offers to automatically update card details for merchants so they can seamlessly handle your ongoing transactions.
Of course, this only happens with “qualified merchants” and involves a process of requesting the new details securely, having Visa verify the information transfer, and then sending the updated payment details to the merchant. The card owner doesn’t know this is happening, but they benefit from not having to remember to update their details manually.
These automatic account update services have been offered for many years, but as they are targeted at merchants we don’t hear about them very often. It may be this isn’t a very popular service with merchants. Have you ever experienced an automatic card update happening on an account? I haven’t.