Small and medium sized businesses need to ensure that they comply with all Payment Association of South Africa (PASA) rules for transaction processing, especially if they are to mitigate the risks associated with debit order fraud, together with related disputes, penalties and sanctions from PASA.
That’s according to Donovan Marais, Channel Manager at Sage Pay who says that there is a proposal of tough new rules from PASA which aims to clamp down on debit order fraud. It also puts small business owners under pressure to improve and intensify their management of debit orders.
“Debit order fraud and abuse of the system has become a major issue in South Africa ever since smaller companies have been permitted to use debit order services to collect payments from their customers,” says Marais. “Often, fraud takes the form of a dishonest company debiting a small, unauthorised amount of between R50 to R100 from a customer’s account. The rationale is that the customer won’t notice and if he does; it’s easy enough to reverse the charge without the customer taking the matter further.”
Now PASA is looking to introduce a R1000 penalty per unauthorised debit order for companies that deduct money without the customer’s consent. What’s more, companies that are possibly unethical in this regard may be stopped from processing debit orders after a certain number of complaints from consumers. Aside from these penalties; taking money from a customer’s account without permission can damage a company’s reputation and relationships with its clients.
What this means is that SME’s must be transparent and ethical when they ask consumers to sign debit order mandates, says Marais. They must ensure that the account holder and not a child or spouse, has given clear permission for the debit order to be processed each month.
They should also ensure that the account they are deducting money from actually belongs to the right customer. One way to do this is through the bank account verification service. “Debit orders are a useful tool for SMEs, because they can help ensure timely payment of customer accounts, improving cash flow” says Marais. “But it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with debit orders. We support PASA’s efforts to curb debit order abuse and are working closely with our clients to protect their consumers.”
Marais says that payment solutions such as Sage Pay can help merchants to better manage the risks associated with debit orders. Sage Pay allows merchants to capture details for recurring and non-recurring debit orders directly on a secure website.
Sage Pay also allows for the capturing of debit order mandates on paper or voice recording form, making it easy to store and access for future reference. The system also provides comprehensive reports and statistical data; allowing businesses to analyse the efficiency of payments and take timeous action against defaulting clients.
“Companies should also take the necessary steps to manage risk when setting up scheduled payments to pay salaries and suppliers”, says Marais. “For example, the bank account verification service can assist and ensure that you’re paying the salary into the right employee’s bank account.”
It can be a useful way of preventing various forms of payroll fraud or to guard against human error by accidentally paying monies to the wrong account. In cases where people or businesses have paid the wrong person by accident, they often face a long struggle to get their money back. In the recent high court application of Mochudi vs Mothupi, a Free State worker refused to return more than R500 000.00 which was paid into his bank account in error. The verdict is still to be decided as to whether he will have to pay back the money. “Would you rather write off R5.00 to ensure the correct person is being paid or R500 000.00 because you never verified the account holders details beforehand?” asks Marais.
“Consumers and businesses should scrutinise their bank statements and accounts carefully each month to make sure they have approved the debit order deductions on their account. Everyone has 40 days to dispute any unauthorised transaction on their bank accounts, after which you will need to obtain a court order to affect the same”, he explains.
Says Marais: “Debit orders are a safe, cheap and convenient way of collecting money and it can really boost cash flow significantly, but small merchants must educate themselves about the risks. And remember many of your customers may not be happy to pay by debit order. Be sure to offer card facilities, EFTs and other payment mechanisms to accommodate them.”