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Working Lunch Monday, 12 May, 2003, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Businesses lose at cards
Jeff and Ann Eslick
Jeff and Ann are out of pocket
If you run a small business - especially in the holiday trade - you'll take lots of payments by credit card from people you don't know.

There are methods of authenticating transactions to ensure the purchaser is genuine.

But if that system fails, it could be the business that finds itself having to foot the bill.

That's what happened to Jeff and Ann Eslick, who run a hotel in Bournemouth.

They took a booking from Canada for two rooms in the name of Mr Read.

Authorised

The credit cards details were authorised by Streamline, a division of NatWest.

The guests - business associates of the mysterious Mr Read - came and went.

Jeff Eslick
Jeff: "Businessman is left to burn"
The Eslicks assumed that, as the payment had been authorised, any problem would be the bank's responsibility.

But a couple of months later, when the real Mr Read queried his credit card bill, Jeff was told he was responsible because a fraud had been committed.

"These preople are promoting their business the same as we are by using a credit card and in the end we turn out to be the loser," says an angry Jeff.

"It appears to me that the credit companies are fireproof and the businessman is left to burn."

Hard lesson

It's a hard lesson to learn, but when the cardholder is not present, the onus can ultimately rest with the business concerned.

According to NatWest and its agent, Streamline, it's all in the small print.

Vincent van Nulck
Vincent: Lost money
"If the customer is not present, and so therefore they (the business) are unable to identify the cardholder, every transaction is taken at the risk of the business," the bank told Working Lunch.

And the Eslicks are not alone.

Not far away in Bournemouth is Vincent van Nulck, who also runs a hotel.

Two visitors stayed at the Safari, paid for by a third party.

But Vincent also turned out to be a victim of fraud and was left out of pocket - even though he had the details of the guests.

The warning for anyone doing business by card is clear - beware if the holder isn't there.

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