Millions of German bank cards hit by software bug | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.01.2010

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Millions of German bank cards hit by software bug

Withdrawals refused, cards swallowed, customers confused - software problems have stopped many German debit cards and telling machines from working properly in 2010. Officials say the problem is similar to the "Y2K" bug.

An ATM machine (or cash point) in Germany.

Germans have been struggling to get at their money this year

Officials are calling a software glitch that has rendered millions of German ATM cards useless "a year 2010 problem."

Some customers at major banks including Postbank, Commerzbank and the state-owned Sparkasse outlets have found that their cards no longer work, as software on telling machines cannot recognise the year 2010.

"A piece of software on the affected cards, programmed by our suppliers, is defective, and cannot correctly recognize this year's number, 2010," the German DSGV banking association said on Tuesday.

Telling machines have either been rejecting, or even swallowing, valid debit and credit cards, wrongly presuming them to have expired. As German banks scramble to update their ATMs, the DSVG says the problem should be solved domestically by next week.

However, Germans looking to withdraw money abroad may experience problems for longer.

Customers trying to pay by card in shops have also experienced sporadic difficulties.

Delayed Y2K

A woman holds up a microchip debit card.

Modern microchip debit and credit cards are the ones affected by the bug

This is a similar problem to the now infamous "Y2K" or "Millennium Bug" that many feared would bring the world to its knees with the advent of the year 2000. In reality, however, its effect was minimal.

The DSGV estimates that roughly 20 million of the 45 million EC ("Euro-Cheque") debit cards, and about 3.5 million of 8 million credit cards whose pertinent data is stored in a microchip rather than magnetic strip are affected.

Many cards have different software and are not a problem. The DSVG also said that some of the more up to date telling machines are able to deal even with the faulty cards.

Germany is slowly phasing in modern microchip credit and debit cards. The changeover from the old magnetic strip technology is expected to be completed by the end of 2010.


Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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