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The BBC's Emma Simpson
"The unexpected disruption has affected retailers at one of the busiest times of the year"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 29 December, 1999, 21:19 GMT
Millennium bug hits retailers

card terminal Shoppers had trouble paying for goods by debit and credit card


The millennium bug has struck early, with many retailers' card machines refusing to process credit and debit card transactions.

But HSBC, which has issued 10,000 card swipe machines to retailers, says the machines will be working by 1 January.



Many people think the millennium bug will strike as soon as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve. The truth is that it could happen any time a computer uses the date 2000.
Action 2000
A software problem has meant that since Tuesday many credit card terminals have not accepted transactions from credit and debit cards, such as Switch, Mastercard and Visa.

Credit card transactions are stored on a central computer which covers a four day period. Hence any transactions which took place since Tuesday have covered the 1 January date.

Since the problem emerged, many retailers have resorted to pen and paper to complete credit and debit transactions.

"Customers can still pay," the HSBC spokeswoman added. "The problem is a minor one and can be fixed by pressing a series of keys."

She added that the problem would disappear on 1 January.

Racal, which makes the terminals, apologised to customers for the "short-term minor technical difficulty".

"We are sorry for the temporary glitch. We can only apologise to customers for any inconvenience," a spokesman said.

But many shops and restaurants, who are having one of their busiest periods, are furious at the software problems and wonder why they were not anticipated.

One Welsh restaurateur said: "It's astonishing at this late stage that nobody has picked this up."

Warnings

Action 2000, the government body set up to warn about millennium computer problems, said: "Many people think the millennium bug will strike as soon as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve.

"The truth is that it could happen any time a computer uses the date 2000."

The so-called millennium bug may strike computers which recognise the year by just two digits.

The fear is that when 1999 becomes 2000, the computer will read the switch from '99 to '00 and think it is 1900 rather than 2000.

The fault will renew worries that the Y2K bug will bring the UK grinding to a halt, despite persistent claims by business and government that key computer systems are compliant.

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See also:
29 Dec 99 |  Business
Business braced for Y2K bug
21 Dec 99 |  Business
Bug fears keep rates on hold
30 Nov 99 |  Business
'Millennium bug nearly beaten'

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