Who's Said What About the Coinbase-Visa Dispute

Nikhilesh De
Feb 19, 2018 at 21:00 UTC  |  Updated  Feb 20, 2018 at 17:03 UTC

Users of cryptocurrency startup Coinbase have seen repeated charges appear on their bank statements tied to their Visa credit and debit card use in recent days, prompting several rounds of statements from the companies involved after the situation went viral last week.

These charges reportedly emptied bank accounts and resulted in some customers getting hit overdraft fees, while others were unable to pay for critical expenses, as CoinDesk previously reported. At the time, Coinbase claimed the issues came from their payments processing network, not from any actions instigated by the exchange. Indeed, both firms seemed to initially deny responsibility as news of the issues took shape.

A joint statement from Coinbase, Visa and Worldpay released at the end of the week disclaimed responsibility for the charges from the startup, noting that Visa and Worldpay were working to reverse the duplicate transactions.

In the statement, the companies announced that all reversals would be completed within the next few days, going on to tell customers to contact their banks if they continue to see issues.

What happened?

A Visa spokesperson told CoinDesk that the multiple-charge issue appears to have stemmed from an incorrect Merchant Category Code (MCC). Payment operators like Visa use MCC codes to help process payments from merchants.

The codes tell operators what sort of transaction is being conducted, which then helps the company analyze the risk associated with the transaction.

However, payment operators do not actually influence these codes, the spokesperson said, explaining that "Visa reaffirms MCC codes. It doesn't set them and we can't change them."

The representative said expanded:

"Neither Visa nor Coinbase is responsible for changing/setting MCC codes. Visa processes transactions via our processing network, Visa.net."

Those remarks also noted that this issue was unique to Coinbase.

"Visa has not made any systems changes that would result in the duplicate transactions cardholders are reporting. We are also not aware of any other merchants who are experiencing this issue. We are reaching out to this merchant's acquiring financial institution to offer assistance and to ensure cardholders are protected from unauthorized transactions," the company said.

Normally, a merchant's acquiring bank or institution would be responsible for setting the MCC codes. Coinbase's acquirer is Worldpay, though none of the companies have confirmed that Worldpay had any responsibility in last week's charging issues.

What comes next

In the joint statement, Visa and Worldpay claimed that most, if not all, charges should have been refunded to customers by this point.

However, it is possible that some refunds will take multiple days to process. According to posts on social media site Reddit, some customers are still reporting issues with their refunds as of Monday morning.

Additionally, Worldpay - beyond the joint statement issued with Coinbase and Visa - has yet to independently comment on the situation. CoinDesk contacted the firm for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Coinbase. 

Visa cards image via varandah / Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

CoinbasePaymentsVisaWorldpayCharging Issue

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