Confused, banks erraneously move money of hundreds of thousands

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Photo: Liis Treimann/PM

Disorientated by technical problem at partner, several banks in Estonia transferred money to accounts of hundreds of thousands clients without bases or earmarked extra sums. 

All it took to trigger the widespread woe was an outwardly insignificant slip: on September 17th, Nets Estonia coordinating card transactions in Estonia forwarded a file with cards transactions to the financial institutions twice, and two days later attempted to correct the mistake by sending a file cancelling the «double» transactions.  

Judging by whatever emerged from the chaos created by last night, for clients the consequences broadly fell in two categories.

The banks which for whatever reason only acted on the cancel-entries sent on September 19th, yesterday morning unexpectedly returned to customers the money spent on September 17th. This, for instance, was the lot of SEB clients.

To our knowledge, clients of institutions like Swedbank and Citadele were less lucky. The control systems of said banks had already acted on the double file dating September 17th and brazenly pocketed the customers’ money twice.

In a word: for some, card payments proved twice as costly, and to others the sums spent were simply paid back.

Morning mystery

The problem touches hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Estonia (with 1.3 million inhabitants – edit). To grasp the magnitude: yesterday morning, every fifth SEB client was recipient of windfall «blessings». With Swedbank, close to 10,000 transactions were charged twice.

Thus, for Postimees the workday kicked into gear by people calling in wondering why major grocery stores, cafes or department stores were giving money for nothing. To cite an example, there was this  client of SEB telling us he had «morning money» coming in from both Prisma and Maxima.

The situation sure felt interesting for another SEB customer Kaspar Pokk. The first transfer landed on his account at 5:34 am yesterday, and the other at 8:27. He said the sums were actually insignificant: a gas station transferred €6.40 and a cafe gave €4.40. Pretty soon, Mr Pokk thought he’d figured out why. «The first thought was perhaps I pressed the PIN code hurriedly and the money was returned,» he guessed regarding the gas station refund. In the cafe, however, he had sent the food back.

Things got weird as a friend began to share his own wondersome transfers. Then, it surfaced a friend of Mr Pokk’s had a hefty €4,000 send by a building materials store. «That’s no PIN thing,» he concluded.

As card payments are refunded out of the blue, people may be pleasantly surprised and in no hurry to report.

Having shopped at Ehituse ABC for several occasions on September 17th, Allan Mõistus had the sums taken from his Citadele accounts as usual. «To our surprise, the same sums were again claimed on September 19th,» said the man. «As we asked about it, the bank said they did everything okay and it’s the shop’s problem. While admitting that such situations happen rather often.»

So Mr Mõistus talked to the store and was told all was correct even there. «Referring to an article in Postimees, they thought it must be a card payments centre issue. I may not have noticed at all, but the sum was too large for that and therefore stood out. While at it, we also found a smaller sum that had vanished,» said Mr Mõistus.

By 11:30 am yesterday, the sums charged twice had been returned to the account.

Yesterday, Nets Estonia technical director Paavo Sild told Postimees that, having checked the situation, they had come to the understanding that by nature the corrective entries were correct and the possible problem thus basically bank-centred and a result of the differing logic of data usage.

Two banks spared

SEB press rep Maarja Gavronski would have everyone understand that sums gotten accidentally must never ever be spent as these would be earmarked and drawn from the accounts afterwards.

At day’s end, the bank said the repairs – i.e. earmarking the erroneous transfers – would be performed by today morning.  

In the case of Swedbank, however, Nets Estonia had debited i.e. taken the sum twice and the error regarded card transactions on September 17th.

«Indeed, an error has occurred while processing the transactions wherefore the transactions were debited twice. In turn, the double debit was caused by a transactions file sent twice,» said  PR person Mart Siilivask.

«By now the error has been discovered, correction files have arrived at the bank, and we are hoping to execute the correction transactions within days,» added the press rep. «Our clients will have to do nothing, the bank will see that the mistakes get corrected and the sum debited twice is returned to clients.»

As LHV and Nordea banks control systems pulled brakes both on the file prescribing double payments and dataset sent to cancel it, the clients of both escaped the mess.